Kaiser Signals an Adulting of Bengali Detective Fiction

The Bangladeshi web series, streaming on Hoichoi, is about a homicide detective embroiled in a double murder case
Kaiser Signals an Adulting of Bengali Detective Fiction

Kaiser (a charismatic, intense Afran Nisho) is a video game addict trying to come to terms with the fact that his ex wife (Rikita Nandini Shimu) is now married to his best friend (Mostafizur Noor Imran), and his daughter now has two dads. Like most homicide detectives in such shows, the personal is inextricably linked to the professional: Only when Kaiser is able to sort out his issues will he be able to solve the double murder case he has found himself in.

Admittedly, it's a bitter pill to swallow: Marrying your best friend's wife is one of those lines that shouldn't be crossed, and we get a sense that Kaiser has a strong moral code. We see it in the way he reacts to a suspect during an interrogation scene when the latter makes a derogatory comment about women. Clearly, in Kaiser's books, there are lines that even criminals aren't supposed to cross, and this concerns his best friend and ex wife—the story pivots on their friendship that dates back to when they were kids, playing amateur detectives to solve cases of much lesser importance. (His friend is now a crime journalist, tracking the same case that Kaiser is investigating). But Kaiser's character is also a kind of man-child who goes through a journey of acceptance and learning once he is forced to face the hard facts and get down to do the real talking. His relationship with his daughter, a bit precocious for her age, is supposed to reflect on what a child he is.

Early on, we see him give her a copy of 'Pahare Feluda' [Feluda in the Mountains] as a birthday present. It's one of the many times the show references works of detective fiction, but the hat-tip to Feluda, an element that circles back into the story later on, might be of greater significance than others. The Feluda stories signify a place of innocence in Bengali life — the best kind of introduction to the world of detective fiction for a young mind — but by repurposing it the way it does here, Kaiser suggests an adulting of the genre. The world of Feluda, famously devoid of women, is cannily placed in a contemporary world, with its complicated issues of divorce, mental health, and a murder mystery that isn't what it seems — one that is perhaps closer to the grislier crimes in Byomkesh.

The reflexive nature of the show seems natural, given Bengali culture's relationship with the genre. And with its wide-ranging references, that include everything from slasher films to Hrithik Roshan in Guzaarish to King Kong versus Godzilla, it's also reflective of Bangladeshi cinema: Learning from the rest of the world, and now beginning to speak in its own voice, while being firmly being rooted in its literary traditions. The lo-fi aesthetics of the show's opening credits — we see archival footage of Bangladesh in the Nineties over synth-pop music — is right for a show full of pop culture references and one that deals with the past.

For all its referencing, Kaiser could have ended up as an underwhelming crime thriller—homages can only take you so far. It starts promisingly, but loses itself in the middle episodes, when it seems as though its self-awareness has got the better of it: Cliches, like the kidnapping of Kaiser's daughter, or the discovery of a drug peddling angle in the story, even though they are subverted, play like cliches. You get the feeling that the show might trip over itself.

But these are nitpickings in a show that largely sustains our interest over nine episodes with its well-drawn world and characters, including Kaiser's gaming partner—part stoner buddy, part flatmate, and part provider of unlabelled companionship — and a shadowy villain figure called The Barrister, really tightening its screws in the final episodes, with a nasty little twist at the end of the penultimate one. The revelations are shocking and once they emerge, Kaiser comes out an even stronger cohesive whole. It's about the character's journey, and strange are the ways the double murder case mirrors it.

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