Detective dead, whodunnit?

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  • Published 2.02.14

It was a mystery how they turned up at Park Street’s newest café-cum- bakery Au Bon Pain at an hour when lakhs were converging on the Brigade Parade Grounds. But they did — speakers and listeners alike — to probe the journey of the sleuth in print and on screen in a session titled Goendagiri on the final day of Kolkata Literary Meet 2014, held in association with The Telegraph.

Moderator Anindya Chattopadhyay started by tracing the history of detective fiction in Bengali literature. “Priyanath Mukhopadhyay is the father of Bengali detective fiction with his Darogar Daptar series, followed by his younger contemporaries Panchkari Dey and Kaliprasanna Chattopadhyay. Dinendrakumar Ray’s Robert Blake gained quite a following in the Raj era. So popular were detective stories at the turn of the century that Kuntalin awards were announced for the best entries in the genre. An effort at characterisation in the Bengali milieu is first perceived in Hemendra Kumar Ray whose Sundarbabu loves to linger for tea with Jayanta and Manik. But it is Saradindu Bandyopadhyay in whose hands crime fiction blooms as serious literature,” said the singer and actor, who played Ajit in Rituparno Ghosh’s Satyanweshi.

Abir Chatterjee, who has played Saradindu’s very Bengali and very cerebral sleuth Bomkesh in two films and is set to be the new Feluda in Sandip Ray’s next, said: “A Bomkesh story holds up a mirror to contemporary society. Unlike Satyajit Ray’s Feluda, one needs an adult sensibility to appreciate him completely. There is an element of superiority in Feluda. He can write with both hands, knows ju-jitsu, has played cricket, does workout.... That’s why he is dada. Bomkesh is much more domesticated, having fallen in love and married,” he said.

Sujoy Ghosh, Bomkesh to Anindya’s Ajit in Satyanweshi, pointed to a weakness in the plots of these stories. “Nothing much happens in a detective novel, except a murder or a theft. The rest of the story is the search. The challenge is to keep the reader interested. Even for Kahaani, where all through the film a wife searches for a missing husband, my biggest aim was to keep this page-turning element alive in scene after scene.”

The speakers agreed that the advent of technology has killed many of the earlier detective stories. “The crux of Gorosthane Sabdhan is whether the Perigal repeater is a gun or a watch. Today a Google search would have given away the twist in the tale in seconds,” Sujoy said.

Is contemporising earlier stories an option for filmmakers? Sujoy pointed out how even in his use of computer, the new Sherlock — played by Benedict Cumberbatch — uses his powers of deduction. “The biggest change is the pace, from the leisurely to the breakneck, that is more in keeping with life today.”

Admitting that the new Sherlock, armed with gadgets, has worked, Abir said Bengalis are too possessive about their home-grown sleuths to allow tinkering. He referred to a meme seen on Facebook with the words ‘’. “If you think about it, Feluda’s Sidhu jyatha served as his Internet. So, the deduction process may remain the same. But the question is how far people would accept changes. For example, as a reader, I would be revolted if Feluda has a girlfriend,” he smiled.

Good detective stories no longer get written. “It’s only thrillers now,” rued Anindya. “Possibly because it is too laborious to set a detective story in this hi-tech age,” reasoned Sujoy.

Yet several detective films are being shot or planned right now — Dibakar Banerjee’s Detective Byomkesh Bakshi with Sushant Singh Rajput in the lead, Sandip Ray’s next Feluda film Badshahi Angti, Arindam Sil’s film with Saswata Chatterjee as Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay’s police detective Sabar Dasgupta…. “Srijitda (Mukherji) says once I grow old he will make a Kiriti (Nihar Ranjan Gupta’s creation) film with me,” Abir laughs.

The detective is dead. Long live the detective.