The Bengali Detective

The Bengali Detective


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

There's no shortage of interesting documentary subjects in the world but it's rare for a team to hit gold like this. The Bengali Detective has all the makings of a Hollywood classic - action, mystery, dance, romance and heartbreaking personal tragedy. At its heart is Rajesh Ji, one of the most charming, unselfconscious heroes to grace our screens for a decade, and it's set against the vibrant background of Kolkata in a period of rapid economic and social change.

Rajesh is a real life private detective, the founder of Always Investigatings and Security Concern, and he runs it as if he learned everything he needed to know from Seventies TV shows. The first time the documentary crew arrives, he's taking calls about child abduction and the selling of counterfeit hair oil. This is a typical day, he says. We see his team preparing to investigate the hair oil trade on a mission codenamed Operation Tiger. Meanwhile Rajesh is called upon to deal with a triple murder where suspects include a property magnate and a beautiful dancer.

No fictional characters would be this rounded. We see Rajesh at home with his ailing diabetic wife and the small son they both adore. We see him take his team to the park to learn how to fight. We also see the disco dancing they do to work off stress after a tough day, and hopes are raised when Rajesh enters them for a national TV talent contest. They look into the case of a possibly adulterous husband - another of those small tragedies that make up day to day life - yet they are always buoyed up by good humour, affectionate rapport, and a cheerful disregard for health and safety precautions.

Rajesh and his team embrace life so fully that it's hard not to fall head over heels in love with this film. It's full of ridiculous moments but so honest, so genuine that it continues to command real respect. It will have you in stitches and it will have you in tears, something few documentaries can claim. Alongsde this, it paints a vivid portrait of a country in flux. Kolkata has always had a reputation for violence and corruption; this small band of men are trying to change that. Still, the real authorities don't come across well, and often when our heroes do make arrests it is - they regret - the poor who suffer. First world technology sits side by side with third world living conditions. First world ambition site side by side with third world community values, and there, perhaps, the detectives exemplify India's real strength.

Don't miss this.

Reviewed on: 02 Feb 2012
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A private detective with a passion for disco tries to clean up the streets of Kolkata in a documentary like no other.
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Director: Phil Cox

Starring: Rajesh Ji, Minnie Ji, Betu Ji

Year: 2011

Runtime: 110 minutes

Country: India, US, UK

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