Sunday, October 23, 2011

Movie Review: The Bengali Detective

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The Hawaii International Film Festival wraps up this weekend and I took in another film. This one from India. I thought it was going to be a Bollywood movie with the sudden departures from story blooming into colorful sequences of song and dance. Wellllll....not quite. The description and the trailer for the film really didn't describe the story the way that it revealed itself on the screen. The Bengali Detective was not a piece of fiction, but a documentary shot in reality TV style. So the movie doesn't stand up as a piece of Bollywood, but it stands firm as a unique documentary.

HIFF The Bengali Detective Movie ticket
Rajesh lives in Kolkota (formerly Calcutta, the place where Mother Teresa served the poorest of the poor) with his wife and son. The population doesn't trust the authorities as the murder rate has increased and 70% of those murders go unsolved. The populous turn to private detectives like himself to help with investigations. This might include murders, counterfeit products or unfaithful spouses. Rajesh's agency Always has himself and a half dozen other men who track down their marks. We follow them as they attempt to solve a brutal slaying of three young men, an abused wife wondering if her husband is having an affair and busting businesses that are involved with the sale of counterfeit products like hair oil.

From the American perspective looking in, we'll probably take a slightly different view to their reactions and how the detectives go about their job, especially when looking at the issue of the counterfeit hair oil. Large corporations in America are concerned about copyright infringement, particularly media companies with concerns about people posting digital files online for easy copying. Rajesh has the company who makes the hair oil pressuring him to find anyone and everyone involved with the sale and production of the fake oil and shut them down. It's understandable that they want to protect their product.

On the home front Rajesh is concerned about his wife of seven years, Minnie. She has diabetes and has lost both the pigmentation in her skin and her eye sight. He juggles both the responsibility of the office and the care of his now blind wife and their young son. He's concerned about the entire family in all aspects. To help him relieve stress, he loves to since and dance. He loves it so much that he applies to a TV show where he and his detectives will perform. The other agents agree, even if it was with a bit of reluctance. These segments of the movie do break the tension of the day to day investigation duties, but at the same time seem so out of place that it almost comes through as completely made up and fictional especially when the men are provided costumes for the contest. The laughter they provided did bring some moments of levity amidst some intense moments. This was also about the closest you get to a stereotypical Bollywood movie but without the true triple threat of singing, dancing and acting of say an Anil Kapoor or Shar Rukh Kahn.

Director Philip Cox took the approach of a reality show like COPS or Dog the Bounty Hunter while following Rajesh and his detectives both on and off duty. They might be re-enacting a position of a body on a railroad track, looking into boxes of merchant inventory, blurring out the face of alleged adulterers or running to catch a suspect. There was quite a bit of adjusting focus to bring the picture into a sharp image or blurry abstraction and back again or changing the depth of field so that the focus went back and forth between background and foreground objects. We would look at what they're doing with jaded eyes after watching all these procedural shows and their recreations on TV. The most high tech they have to use is their color ink jet printers and cell phones never mind having access to DNA processing or cell phone records.

The uncredited actor is the city of Kolkota. The city acts as a backdrop with conditions that most Americans won't experience in their everyday lives. The crush of people; the constant honking of horns; the rush, rush rush of the traffic; colorful clothing and people bathing or performing rituals in the Hooghly river provide the framework in which Rajesh's daily interactions occur. One particular scene of note is when Rajesh takes his wife onto a small boat into the river and he describes the scene for her telling her of birds flying and following each other, nearby boats or flowers floating in the current.

The movie as a documentary does not have a rating. I didn't see any bad words in the sub titles as most of the dialogue was in Hindi with some English. If any bad words were spoken, I wouldn't have recognized them anyway, my Hindi is rusty. That is to say it's nonexistent. There are scenes of extreme poverty and a religious ritual which if rated may give it something other than a G rating. It ran for 110 minutes in one of the larger theater venues of the festival at Regal Cinemas and was about 60% full of attendees. It did have an audience ballot for which I gave it mid marks based on the fact that I was expecting a different type of film. If the HIFF web site movie's description page said documentary I would have given it a 4 out of 5 rating.

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