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Think like a sleuth

The screen has long replaced the stage in his mindscape, but a murder mystery is bringing Anjan Dutt back to theatre after 16 years.

The last time the Bong Connection maker was on stage was for Ali Gin, which he directed back in 1993.

This time, Dutt will appear in the English play Checkmate, set in Calcutta of the Seventies. Dutt will play an ageing detective in this whodunit, scripted and directed by Srijit Mukherjee as a tribute to the iconic sleuth Byomkesh Bakshi.

“When I think of a man nostalgic about those times, I automatically think of Anjanda. The nostalgia and the winds of change run through his songs and his films. Plus, he is an avid reader of thrillers, has theatre experience and speaks crisp English. He comfortably fits into genre,” says Srijit, ready to start rehearsals from February.

A break from his regular film routine was inspiration enough for Dutt to take up Srijit’s offer.

“I’ve always been a fan of Feluda and Byomkesh Bakshi, and I liked the concept of the play. It’s also set in a time zone that I really love. Since I am also planning to do a thriller film, being a part of a thriller play seemed more in line with my flow of thought,” explains Dutt.

“I started doing plays in 1979. Our group Open Theatre was started by Chhanda (wife), myself, Sekhar Das, Raja Sen and some others. We did a lot of Brecht and Ibsen plays but I gradually lost interest because it wasn’t paying. I had to earn a living, so my focus shifted to films,” recounts Dutt, for whom theatre has essentially been a “non-professional activity”.

Modelled on Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay’s narrative style, Checkmate revolves around two main characters — a detective and his assistant friend who go about investigating a murder. The story unfolds in a bonedi household of north Calcutta when the patriarch of the family is murdered and a series of unusual incidents prompts the cops to call Dutt’s character (the name has not been decided yet).

Biplab Dasgupta will play his sidekick. “Dutt’s character is past his prime. He doesn’t have too many cases coming his way,” says Srijit, currently assisting Dutt in his band film Madly Bangali.

Checkmate works at different levels. Apart from being a murder mystery with a twist, the play looks at interpersonal relationships and delves into the social milieu of the Seventies. “It’s set in the time of political turbulence, hippie culture and the Naxal movement. A lot of that influences the play,” explains Srijit.

An economics graduate from Presidency College, Srijit quit his job as a statistician in Bangalore to do theatre and films in hometown Calcutta. He staged the Bengali play Feluda Pherot in Bangalore last year, where Barun Chanda played an older Feluda and Parambrata Chatterjee became Topshe.

Checkmate is set to open in May with three consecutive shows in Calcutta before moving to Bangalore.

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