Wednesday, April 13, 2011


Rajesh Ji in The Bengali Detective.
Fighting crime one groove at a time

By John Esther

Meet Rajesh Ji. He is a detective in Kolkata (AKA Calcutta) who cracks the case where the corrupt police fail or when a concerned spouse needs him. In his off hours, he tends to his ailing wife and fantasizes of one day becoming a dance star. 

Acquired for "remake rights" by Fox Searchlight Pictures at Sundance Film Festival 2011 -- where it was an audience favorite, too -- director Phil Cox's documentary has a lot going for it.  Ji and his mates are ordinary folks working through a labyrinth of corruption and dishonestly. From exposing cases of counterfeit hair oil to a middle class woman who hires the group to spy on her abusive husband, their findings, albeit successful, are not necessarily pretty. 

Even uglier, the private eyes are investigating a triple-murder (the police will not rule it a homicide) in a country where 70 percent of all murders remain unsolved.  Where you would most like to see them succeed is where the odds are too great, and the results are tragic. 

If things were not bad enough in the workplace, at home is where the heart is breaking. Ji's sick wife is getting sicker and the doctors at the hospitals offer little hope. 

Against this backdrop of despair Ji and the others train for an upcoming TV dance contest. Considering his dire straits, one wishes Ji could succeed here. Yet as comical and amusing as the dancing is for the viewer, in Ji's heavy shoes this aspiration is going to be another disappointment.

Through these struggles Ji remains optimistic, sometimes relying on self-preservation delusion. 

Considering the plights and perils of Ji, it may seem somewhat surprising how unsympathetic he remains. When he is not hamming it up for the camera, Ji reasons rather wrongfully on the state of things, especially when his conscience confronts his pocketbook. His methods for solving crimes at times are highly questionable and his parenting skills could certainly improve.

In other words, this dancing-detective-solving-crimes-while-his-wife-dies documentary is about a rather ordinary human being and not some fictional hero.

We shall see what the remake team does about that.

The Bengali Detective screens tonight, 9:15 p.m., ArcLight Hollywood. For more information: IFFLA 2011.

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