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Saturday , March 17 , 2012
 
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SHER-LOCKED!

“Think. It’s the new sexy.”

Better believe it. Specially when the words come from a lithe, six-foot frame cloaked in black and mystery at all times; with eyes of icy blue and cheekbones like razorblades.

That’s Sherlock Holmes, in his 21st century avatar. That’s Benedict Cumberbatch. Watch him and you are guaranteed to be Sher-locked, just as sure as Irene Adler was.

And then get in line; because I was there first.

Sherlock, aired on BBC One in the UK, has not arrived officially in India as yet. But that hasn’t stopped everyone from getting hooked and spreading the word. Sometimes piracy of a digital kind is fully justifiable, and it is unlikely that the new, irreverent Sherlock would particularly mind the transgression.

The deerstalker doesn’t sit easy on the head of Benedict Cumberbatch. But almost everything else about Sherlock Holmes is a perfect fit. Why? There is nothing elementary about it.

This Sherlock isn’t true to the text like Jeremy Brett. He’s been updated for our times. Think not of Robert Downey Jr but of House MD. And, as it turns out, the belligerent yet brilliant doctor played by Hugh Laurie pays homage to, you guessed it, the man of the hour Sherlock Holmes.

Who would have thought a TV show could upstage a Hollywood blockbuster? That a relative unknown no matter how intense his eyes could overshadow the toothsome Robert Downey Jr? And that everyman Martin Freeman could out-Watson the eyeful that is Jude Law?

Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock can only be described by that untranslatable Bengali word: chhyabla. The films are less about Sherlock and more about Robert Downey Jr, which is normally an acceptable state of being when dealing with, say, Iron Man. He plays it like he’s the swashbuckling pirate of the private investigator world, and that’s more spin than is required for a reboot of Holmes, the most brilliant crime-fighter of his time.

This latest version of Arthur Conan Doyle’s classics, created by Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat, departs widely from the stories, and not only to make it suitable for today. But, strangely, it feels right. The spirit of Sherlock is very much alive; the sheer pace of the genius on show makes us forget that the original master sleuth was more or less polite most of the time, and quite keen on lengthy narrative, particularly with his dear friend Watson.

Somehow Sherlock convinces us that now, stripped of the constraints of decorum in place a century ago, this might be what Holmes would become. “I dislike being outnumbered. It makes for too much stupid in the room,” says Sherlock. Surrounded by people of normal intelligence and downright incompetents, how could his enormous intellect not take a more arrogant turn than in the novels and stories?

Over a beautifully shot breakneck 90 minutes, each episode packs in action aplenty to keep Sherlock on his toes and John and the audience puzzled. The foundations of this world have been borrowed from clues scattered across works, with the gaps filled in by a playful amount of imagination.

This, for instance, is a Sherlock firmly rooted in technology. Watson doesn’t write stories he blogs. Read it at www.johnwatsonblog.co.uk; the last post is appropriately trenchant: “He was my best friend and I’ll always believe in him.”

Sherlock seems to like his iPhone rather well. He, predictably, has a love-hate relationship with the media. Mycroft is no longer the mild but brilliant older brother; he is the bossy sibling whom Sherlock barely tolerates, providing fodder for the modern, psychologically-minded viewer. And Irene Adler, well, suffice it to say that there is nothing old-school about The Woman.

And, every great hero needs a great enemy. Through the six episodes aired so far, Moriarty’s hand appears numerous times. As Doyle suggests in the Adventure of the Final Problem, his is the diabolical force behind much of the crime in London, and here, at last, Moriarty is allowed to fulfill his obsessed super-villain destiny at leisure.

Watson is thankfully still sufficiently adoring, and maintains his role as humane counterpoint to the often brutal mind of his friend; but the good doctor also offers enough resistance and sarcasm to be more edgy than the eager chronicler of the books.

The good news is that the fun has just begun, with endless possibilities for future adventures. I’ll be watching hopeful that the stars don’t get too big to return to the telly, as I fear they might. That would be a real shame, for at only three episodes per season, I depend on Sherlock to go on for, oh, at least 10 more years?