Looks like B-Town has had its fill of cops and spies, but not of thrillers. Filmmakers here are suddenly intent on exploring a genre that has rarely been explored on the big screen that of detective movies, where the lead protagonist is a private investigator. And with big production houses involved, the genre may finally get its due.
In the making
Anurag Basu’s next with Ranbir Kapoor titled Jagga Jasoos has the young star playing a private eye. Kaushik Ghatak’s next Samrat & Co starring Rajeev Khandelwal has the actor essaying the role of a serious crime busting investigator.
Dibakar Banerjee’s Detective Byomkesh Bakshy with Sushant Singh Rajput has its lead play the famous literary detective on screen. Arshad Warsi plays a detective in the upcoming Mr Joe B Carvahlo, while there are reports of Shah Rukh Khan being approached for Mira Nair’s Bengal Detective.
Director Sujoy Ghosh is making his acting debut playing the role of Byomkesh Bakshi in Rituparno Ghosh’s last Bengali film offering Satyanweshi. Piyush Jha too is reportedly planning to make an investigative thriller based on one of his books. Whew!
Not so clued in
Unlike the West, which boasts of several whodunnit hit films, Bollywood is only now warming up to such films.
Trade analyst Komal Nahta points out that most movies till now have either been sidekicks (Asit Modi in Bees Saal Baad, 1962) or a part of the ensemble (Anil Kapoor in Race and Race 2). In the case of the heroes playing the detectives, the films have been comic entertainers like SRK’s Baadshah, or Raj Kapoor and Rajendra Kumar starter Do Jasoos (1975) like the Pink Panther series in Hollywood.
Komal says, “In our films, the detective has more often than not been shown as this bumbling guy in a comedy of errors.
It’s a genre that’s never been truly tapped beyond comic relief. There have hardly been films centering around solving a case, like a true detective.” But he admits that’s changing now.
A new approach
Kaushik shares that he’s been working on his detective film for the last four years. “My film is A serious detective thriller, not a caricature of a detective. Samrat (Rajeev) is a serious private investigator out to solve a crime and he bears no resemblance with either Sherlock Holmes or Byomkesh.”
Talking about the rise in such films, he says, “Well, it’s not even a genre here so far. But with so many filmmakers now delving into it, it’s only a matter of time before Bollywood would get a new genre. There is great potential in the detective genre and the nature of the film is such that it can lend itself to sequels and so is commercially viable.”
He adds, “Most producers are afraid to take risks. However, today there is a breed ready to try out new fare, like my producer Kavita Barjatya and that’s why we as filmmakers are being able to bring on screen what so far has only been on paper.”
Nahta says, “These days, the audience is far more receptive to newer ideas onscreen and the market is ripe for experiments.” He narrows it down as Bollywood’s herd mentality. “The moment a film like this is backed by a big production house, many more producers get ready to back it.
It’s like a bhed chaal.” As for the films going beyond the comedy realm, Nahta adds, “Today comedy is all pervasive and not dependent on one character or a genre alone. Like Akshay Kumar is doing intense action in Boss, but also providing humour.”
Aping the West
The success of Hollywood films like Sherlock Holmes here is also a trigger. A filmmaker says, “We’ve always aped the West. We have had Feluda and Byomkesh for years, but no one tapped these subjects for the big screen in Bollywood, like Sherlock and Hercules Pinot in the West.
Besides we have never had a modernised sleuth in our literature except Byomkesh.” Ghatak agrees, “The image that we have of a detective through our films is extremely caricaturish and one-sided, kind of uni-dimensional.
So either they are viewed as people hired by wealthy wives out to spy on their husbands or as people out to investigate prospective grooms and brides. But the fact is that this genre can provide all the masala required with an intelligent sensibility to suit all needs.”
Television did it first
Characters like Karamchand and Byomkesh have proven to be big draws on the small screen. Says an industry expert, “Filmmakers know it’s a tried and tested formula that’s worked on TV and so the chances of it working as films is high too.” The X-Files has had a very successful run of may seasons on the tube.