Indian audiences are always up for a whodunnit. And the sudden interest from several talented filmmakers in detective films might just breathe life into this long-forgotten genre.
While director Dibakar Banerjee is busy with the groundwork for his forthcoming detective saga Detective Byomkesh Bakshy!, filmmaker Anurag Basu, post his last release Barfi!, is all set to further cement his professional relationship with actor Ranbir Kapoor in their next film Jagga Jasoos.
And here’s the one the trade is keenly watching – Bobby Jasoos, which will feature Vidya Balan in the lead as a female detective. The film, to be produced by Born Free Entertainment, is yet to go on the floors and will release next year.
For crime lovers, there’s a whole lot more in store. Lesser-known directors like Kaushik Ghatak and Sameer Tiwari are helming films Samrat & Co with Rajeev Khandelwal and Mr Joe B Karwa Lo featuring Arshad Warsi as private eyes, respectively.
None of these films may be an Arthur Conon Doyle masterpiece but since Hollywood franchises like Sherlock Holmes are finding a loyal fan base among the youth in India, Bollywood has placed the detective genre firmly in its sights. In fact, according to some distributors, the first and the second parts of the Sherlock Holmes franchise did better business in India than in other South Asian markets.
The Hindi film audience has been exposed to this genre in the past, with films like Baadshah featuring Shah Rukh Khan and Mr Bond with Akshay Kumar, in the lead. Also a small kiddie film Detective Naani. Back in the early ’80s too, Raj Kapoor and Zeenat Aman teamed up for a detective movie titled Gopichand Jasoos.
Over the years, the genre has proved its mettle on the small screen with several TV shows including Feluda on DD Bangla, Karamchand on Doordarshan and Byomkesh Bakshi on DD Metro breaking TRP records. Besides these, a host of Hindi TV shows like Tehkikaat, Raja Aur Rancho, Suraag-The Clue, Detective Vijay, Karan The Detective and Aakhir Kaun have wooed the audience.
But, is this the right time to revive the genre and will it find takers on the big screen. Here’s what the industry feels about it.
It’s really exciting that I have found the role to play a lady detective in the film Bobby Jasoos. It will be really very interesting to play this character because in the Indian film industry till date no actress has ever played a detective. In Hindi films, its always a male detective, which has been in the highlight. However, I don’t know about other detective films but if you want to see Lady James Bond on Indian screens then here I am.
Detective genre is not one of the staples of Indian movie industry; some stray attempts have been made in the past, with varying degrees of success.
However, it is a genre that is extremely popular amongst the masses, thanks to the pulp novelists like Surendra Mohan Pathak and Vedprakash Sharma. I do feel that it is a genre that lends itself to great entertainment, if the detective is a great character, very Indian, and not a copy of a Hollywood detective. Also, a combination of humour with the thriller aspect that’s inherent with the genre, should work pretty well in India.
The script of the film Bobby Jasoos came to us around two years ago, where it was just a one line brief. We liked the script and started working on it and at that time we were not aware that there were so many other filmmakers who were planning films in the same genre. It was only this year when Ranbir Kapoor and Anurag Basu announced their detective film Jagga Jasoos and Sushant Singh Rajput and Dibakar Banerjee announced their next film Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! with YRF. I think the reason why so many people are trying their hands at detective films is because experimental themes have started clicking in Bollywood, but we are yet to see an outstanding film in the detective genre. I still feel ours is a different film because for the first time we have a woman playing the lead role of a detective. It will be first Indian lady detective story.
Thanks to films like the Sherlock Holmes franchise, which did better business in India than other overseas markets, detective films have a huge recall value. These films have a strong audience base in the country, especially the youth, and they have not been tried out for a while. If we have a well-made detective film made by a competent director, it will go down very well with the audience across the country. Detective films were a popular genre during the ’70s and ’80s but they lost their charm due to overkill. Now, many directors have announced detective films and I am sure they will find many takers.
Investigation always makes for good drama, and if handled properly, it will also make for good business. We have very limited genres among our Hindi films and this one has not been exploited to its full potential. If one director manages to pull off a big hit in this genre, we will see a new wave of detective films in the Hindi film industry.
Shoojit Sircar, Director
The detective genre has found immense popularity on TV, both with Indian and foreign formats like Karamchand, Byomkesh Bakshi and The X-Files, respectively. Of late, more and more filmmakers are also trying out this theme as it has wide appeal. If made well, these films will work. Detective films have found a strong foothold among Bengali audiences because they have been exposed to TV shows like Topshe, a famous detective series by Satyajit Ray and directed by his son Sandip Ray. The genre is popular in Hollywood as they have a strong bank of detective novels to draw on. In fact, a detective adaptation of Feluda is most certain on my wishlist.
Bollywood has never focused on serious detective films and the films we have made to date have all had a touch of comedy. At Rajshri, we wanted to do something new and the time is just right because the Hindi film industry is in the throes of experimenting with genres. That’s why we said ‘yes’ to Samrat & Co.
In Hollywood, spy films and detective movies do very well and we love those films even in India. They have a rich bank of detective novels in their literature like Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous character Sherlock Holmes and novels by Agatha Christie. They have grown up on those stories. That’s why they have such stories on television too. We don’t have literature like that here in India, except for Bengali literature, which has stories like Feluda and Byomkesh Bakshi. Every single Bengali has grown up reading these stories and that’s why some Bengali directors are now making detective films.
Ratan Jain, Producer, Venus Records & Tapes
I believe no one has ever taken this genre as seriously as other genres and that’s the reason we haven’t seen a good detective film yet. What happens is, when Indian directors want to make something on those lines they end up making a spy or thriller film or inadvertently it becomes a comedy film. But now many directors seem to take detective films as a serious genre and are working on such scripts. I am sure if one clicks and becomes a hit then there will be many more following it. But it will be interesting to see sequels of these films since you can create a lot of content with this genre.
The detective films made by Bollywood have not really worked and that’s why we don’t see much of this genre. For example, when you say detective film, Gopichand Jasoos comes to mind and this was not a hit film. All it will take for the detective genre to gain popularity is just one hit film in the genre. In our film Race, Anil Kapoor plays a detective and the audience loved the film but he was not the central character.
We have some very sensible directors today so I believe Anurag Basu, who is making Jagga Jasoos, will deliver a brilliant film. Maybe that film will turn things around for this genre.
It is unfair to say that detective films don’t work in Bollywood. I think the genre is not popular in India because no one has made a serious detective film. We make spy films, not detective movies. The term ‘detective’ is unfamiliar to the Hindi-speaking audience because we don’t have detective stories in our literature. On the other hand, Bengali literature has many detective stories like Byomkesh Bakshi and Feluda. We’ve grown up on these novels and that’s why Bengali directors are now making films in this genre. It is a tough genre to make. I have been working on a script for four years but there are no takers for it. But Kavita Barjatya came on board and agreed to experiment with a new genre.
There was a time when distributors were not prepared to experiment with new genres but things are changing. Now, distributors are scouting for films in new genres and the detective genre will find takers. We have watched spy films but I don’t recall a serious detective film in our industry. If a filmmaker can break through this, I am sure others will follow suit.
Filmmakers in India have not yet attempted any detective films and it is a coincidence that a barrage of detective films is about to be unleashed. I can’t comment on the other detective films in the making, but my film Mr Joe B Karwa Lo is a comedy about a detective who wants to crack big mysteries but nothing comes his way. I know it will be a hit because it is a new genre, after all.
Just like some genres, which some directors are partial to; detective films too have found many takers in the Hindi film industry. A few years ago, we had as many as five Bhagat Singh films and, lately, a host of love stories releasing at the box office. Now filmmakers are beginning to explore the detective genre. But it is very important to remember that detective films will work in India only if they include a comic element. Serious detective dramas will not go down well with the Indian audience.
There were no hit detective films which we have had in the past, so these films were put on the backburner for a long time. In the past many directors have tried the genre with films like Do Jasoos but they tanked at the box office. The reason why very few films have been made with a detective as the central character is because the common man cannot associate with the caricature representation of detectives in the Hindi film industry. They are often portrayed smoking cigars and carrying magnifying glasses wearing overcoats and hats. These reel life characters are very different from real life detectives and so they don’t go down well with the audience. But all of a sudden, a lot of big directors and actors have begun opting for detective films. And with the new breed of filmmakers we hope that this genre will find many takers. It’s just a matter of time. Let’s wait and watch.
There are so many sub genres in the Hindi film industry that we have not explored all these years and one among them is detective films. Till the last decade or so we have seen similar genres making the rounds at the cinema halls but none of them proved to be successful. But now the film industry has broken away from several clichés so now even the detective genre seems new. It might be a possibility that back then several filmmakers may have approached producers with out-of-the-box detective stories, but the industry was not ready to embrace such genres. Now, with experimentation fetching rewards, more and more filmmakers are happy to direct such films. And not just that, even mainstream actors like Ranbir Kapoor and Vidya Balan have all signed such roles.
Detective films were never really successful because the concept of detectives was missing from India. The profession was never taken seriously and a very small percentage of the common man opted to approach a detective for a crime rather than go to the cops. And thus, these films were made with a streak of humour. But now with a lot of filmmakers making the film, the genre might get a new lease of life.