The Bengali Detective

Philip Cox

UK, USA, India, 2011.

Rajesh Ji is a private investigator, an unlikely hero who seeks justice for his clients when the Kolkata police can’t or won’t. When not fighting crime, he’s caring for his ailing wife and pursuing his dream of being a famous dancer. Ji and his crime-fighting team will track anyone from an abusive spouse to an industrial counterfeiter, through affluent suburbs and teeming slums alike. It’s an enviable work-life balance that just might tip when Ji takes on solving a brutal triple murder.

The citizens of Kolkata, India, one of the world’s most populated cities, have – at every caste level – lost trust and confidence in the authorities that are responsible for public safety and good governance. And so, many people in need of help decide to hire private detectives to aid them in solving various crimes and misdemeanors, running the gamut from raids on stores selling counterfeit hair products to grisly homicides.

With a spare crew in tow, director Phil Cox trolled the streets of Kolkata, trailing detective, Rajesh Ji, and his small team of devoted men. The sharp observational and deeply intimate camera work and overall production are so stylish and sophisticated, one feels constantly off-center. Much of the film has high comedic moments, music video-like aspects, and atmospheric elements that would befit a slickly produced television crime series. To add to the tragi-comic aspects of this documentary, there was a central character that died during the time Cox was shooting; a subject who discovered her husband was sleeping with her brother’s wife; and, a grieving mother who becomes the main suspect in her own son’s death, a teenager whose grisly remains are found alongside those of two of his friends on the train tracks north of the city.

Just when one thinks it can’t get any more surreal, detective Rajesh appears in front of Cox’s camera in a tight silver-and-gold sequined costume, replete with headband and large belly bulging over too-tight trousers, in order to play out his alter ego of a dance star. In an effort to battle what he calls “stress management,” from both the traumas of his daily work, and that of caring for a severely sick young wife, he enlists all the men who work for him at the Always Detective Agency in dance lessons, pursuing his dream of winning a national television talent show. The men, ranging in age from early thirties to mid-fifties gamely don sequined costumes, as well, and manage to evoke a motley version of the Village People as they boogie together in scenes of unmitigated hilarity.

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