Monday, November 14, 2011

Tough Guys Dance: The Bengali Detective

He dances, but he never sleeps. His story is worthy of a Bollywood movie (technically it would be Bengali, but you get the picture). Rajesh Ji’s Always Investigating & Security Concern has plenty of business on its hands, including its first murder inquiry, as filmmaker Phil Cox documents in The Bengali Detective (trailer here), which premieres this Wednesday on HBO2.

For fifteen years, “Rajesh the boss” has been investigating cases on the mean streets of Kolkata (a.k.a. Calcutta). However, he is also a “husky” family man devoted to his young son and wife Minnie, whom he married in a love match (rather than an arranged marriage). While he has his share of jealous spouses for clients, “brand protection” cases, raiding suppliers and purveyors of knock-off goods, are his bread-and-butter. In a gift from the documentary gods, Ji also takes on his first murder investigation, a triple homicide to be precise, while Cox’s cameras were following the Always detectives.

In Kolkata, the cops are too lazy or corrupt to do much of anything. As a result, seventy percent of homicides remain unsolved. That number should probably be higher, considering the authorities’ reluctance to classify the Always case a homicide, despite the blatantly suspicious circumstances. As the Always agency pursues the case, the stakes begin to rise. Meanwhile, the Bengali Detective must deal with his own personal drama when his diabetic wife’s health takes a turn for the worse. As serious as that might sound, Bengali still has plenty of dancing, like any self-respecting Indian film, when the boss signs up his detectives to audition for a TV dance competition.

Capturing genuine tragedy and legitimate danger, Bengali is about as real as reality gets. For Law & Order junkies, the murder investigation might seem like standard procedural material, but it is important to bear in mind, it is being conducted in real life, by private investigators (not cops), for the first time in their careers. It probably will not be the last time, though. Indeed, Bengali is a rather pointed rebuke of the state of the Indian justice system, largely privatized by default.

Chocked full of subplots, Cox juggles the homicide, brand protection, and cheating husband cases nearly as deftly as Ji, while still devoting plenty of screen time to the dance rehearsals and Minnie. He also shifts gears rather adroitly, from the silly musical numbers to the deadly serious. Composer Dennis Wheatley and the film’s official choreographer Lisa Cazzato-Vierya evoke the Bollywood spirit quite nicely. Mou, the pretty young choreographer assigned by the show to coach the detectives, is also quite game, doing what she can for the motley crew.

Considering there are five or six compelling stories in Bengali, it is not surprising the remake rights were snapped up at Sundance. In fact, it was such a hit at the festival, your faithful correspondent could not get into the final screening, even with a legit press ticket in hand. Those are the breaks. Any regular ticket holders who were also shut out that night can now catch it in the comfort of their own home. Highly recommended, Bengali starts its HBO2 run this Wednesday (11/16) and will be available through HBO On Demand the following day.