Director: Joydip Mukherjee
Cast: Anirban Bhattacharya, Ishaa Saha, Ambarish Bhattacharya, Saheb Bhattacharjee
Mahimchandra (Anirban Bhattacharya) is a man who gets off on imagining perfect crime scenarios. There’s a scene where he describes his sidekick Hutashon (Ambarish Bhattacharya) what in his books qualifies as the ideal murder, salivating with details, an orgasmic look on his face. When he spots a prospective criminal mastermind in the streets, his eyes light up like that of a coach scouting for talent.
Imagine what must be the plight of his wife (Ishaa Saha). When her lover (Saheb Bhattacharjee), a young freedom fighter, appears near their house, Mahim is convinced that he is the great criminal adversary he has been waiting for—after he sees him collide with a man who has a heart attack soon after and dies. What a guy. He’d rather read a page-turner he is currently hooked than go to bed with his wife. He is a fan (of Sherlock Holmes) first, detective later, husband even afterward.
He isn’t particularly patriotic either. Set in pre-independent India in a yet-undivided Bengal, Mahim, who works as a police detective, has no qualms in being sent to hunt down a Swadeshi youth planning an attack on some Lord, but he has no interest in the assignment either because they are no fun. The standard of crimes in his own city, Calcutta, don’t satiate his thirst for the perfect crimes that he reads about in English detective novels. There’s a case that seems interesting at first but is solved too easily when Mahim stumbles upon a clue (he later admonishes the murderer for not being more tactful about it).
Joydip Mukherjee’s film plays out like a comedy—in a fine comedic touch, the British superintendent police under who Mahim works speaks in ‘shadhu bhasha’ in which Rabindranath Tagore wrote the short story it is based on. But Mukherjee reworks elements of the original text and serves it as a genre-mashup: a story of pre-independence India, a Tagore themed heroine—bored, neglected, in love with a Swadeshi—with her own track, and a detective origin story: all rolled into one.
It’s anchored by a superb Bhattacharya, who plays Mahim like a bumbling fool but also as a man so driven by his personal obsessions that he is automatically the hero. His Mahim fails more, and hardly gets any success, and it is to the actor’s credit that he manages to lend a sense of poetic tragedy to the character, underlined in the film’s climax, that unfolds by the river.
His Mahim is also refreshingly devoid of the masculinity that is a mainstay in detective fiction—and here we have to credit the director for his post-modernist tweaking. The film doesn’t shy away from matters of sex—one of the stories Mahim tells Hutashon is a Bomkesh-like case involving a magur fishbone as murder weapon with a lesbian twist—then why is it that its hero is curiously asexual? Could it be a clever take on the sexuality of the protagonist? Detective teases us with clues, and hints at a second instalment. For once, I am not complaining about another Bengali detective film.