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Like Byomkesh Bakshi created by Saradindu Bandopadhyay, Kiriti Roy is a noted detective created by Nihar Ranjan Gupta, a dermatologist who became a famous writer of popular fiction that includes thrillers with Kiriti Roy at a classy, know-all detective in common. In the race between Satyajit Ray’s Feluda and filmmakers vying with each other to make a Byomkesh Bakshi thriller, Kirity Roy was somehow forgotten by Bengali filmmakers till last year, two Kirity Roy suspense thrillers hit the theatres in West Bengal. One is Kiriti Roy O Kalo Bhramar directed by Anindya Bikash Dutta and more recently, Kiriti Roy, the last release of 2016.
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Aniket Chatterjee who has a knack for interesting comic satires, decided to make a celluloid version of Kiriti Roy adapted from the original novel in Bengali called Setarer Sur – the melody of the sitar. It is a clean, well-researched film that has considerable adult content. The detective story is one of the earliest and most durable among thriller-related genres. Kiriti Roy is a classical whodunit that opens with Kirity Roy accidentally saving Sunil, a man among five young friends, from being killed with a morphine injection while stepping out of a cinema hall featuring a Suchitra-Uttam box office hit, Sagarika (1956), which establishes the setting and the time of the film. Kiriti, portrayed by a mellow and mature Chiranjeet, is intelligent and conceited but by no means is he eccentric unlike most literary detectives. He smokes a Briar pipe, popularized by Sherlock Holmes, is immaculately suited and booted during his professional duties and wears a dressing gown at home. Kiriti Roy along with his assistant Subrato (Sujan Mukherjee) while solving the morphine poisoning case, stumbles on its link to the actual murder of Basabi (Sayoni Dutta), the daughter and heir of an aristocratic and very affluent family in Calcutta. The five friends were besotted with Basabi, who was in love with Ranjan but decided to marry Brajesh instead. Who killed her, why and how? As the case is being detected, the narrative negotiates past love stories, as it takes us on a tour of Rangoon in Burma, comes back to the present in Kolkata till Kiriti reveals the killer and the cause in the typical drawing room climax.
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The love episode between the patriarch, that is Basabi’s uncle (Krishnakishore Mukherjee) and Jennifer Braganza (Swastika Mukherjee), the gold digger-turned-prostitute-turned-alcoholic wreck brings out yet another facet of the wonderful talent of Swastika who dresses aptly for the part in both her young and older avatars – the smudged lipstick, the dowdy dress, the plain, no-nonsense speak she includes herself in, demonstrate once again the underutilized talent of Swastika as a versatile actress. Chiranjeet is wonderful as the suave Kiriti Roy, wearing his attitude as he wears his overcoat. The local police officer (Kaushik Ganguly) and Subrata are ‘regulars’ at Kiriti’s place where they devour huge rajbhogs from a special shop, with luchi/radhaballabi and aloor chhenchki. Sayoni Dutta, as the scintillating Basobi, is a manipulator who entices with her moods and her flirtations with all the five young men besotted by her charms.
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The city of Calcutta in 1956 was spilling over with the Communist Party of India versus the Congress, then in power under the CM-ship of Dr Bidhan Chandra Roy. The Ruling Party was negotiating a merger of West Bengal and Bihar strongly opposed by the CPI, a strong opposition. The common man, like the obese police officer very fond of food, says that if the two states were to merge, disaster would strike as everyone would have to learn Hindi. The soundtrack (Dipankar Chaki) is filled with slogans raised by political party workers on either side, fighting for and against the merger, sometimes off-screen and often, shown visually with flag-raising processions committed to their goal. By the time the film ends, the soundtrack fills with loud sound bursts. While everyone thinks they are bombs, Kiriti says that they are fire crackers burst because the CPI has won its goal of no merger of Bengal with Bihar initiating the beginning of CPI rule in West Bengal which later became CPM and went on to run the administration for nearly four decades. This political upheaval runs like a constant and powerful undercurrent right through the film investing it with an additional dimension. Aniket proves that period in a film is not only detailed physically through costume and objects and décor and language but more importantly, through the socio-political backdrop that sustains during the time and place-settiing of the story, the moral values dominated by feudal patriarchy – women exploited sexually because they are marginal – domestic maids and cooks or Anglo-Indian among other things. As a counterpoint to Jennifer and the two maids, Basobi is flirtatious, teasing and scintillating, forever leaving her five admirers on the edge of suspense, leading to shock for the sitarist and photographer Ranjan who she was in love with and shocking surprise for the rotund and roly-poly Brajesh, who did not in his wildest dreams imagine that she would choose him for a husband.
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The music track is enriched with some Tagore lines floating in as ambient music juxtaposed against song lines of songs from Suchitra-Uttam films and of course, the music of Ranjan’s sitar (Raag Megh) that is imaginatively strategised as a framing device for the narrative while Kiriti Roy’s own rendering of the Tagore number makes him the first ever detective in Bengali cinema to sing a song!
Indraneel Mukherjee’s camera vacillates between Black & White, monochrome and colour smoothly to effect the split between the past and the present, the Rangoon episodes shot in monochrome and the flashbacks into the present-past in Black & White clearly demarcating the time and space elements. The mid-shots of Ranjan and Basmati as the sitarist and his sole listener are captivating as the scenario shifts from Ranjan’s room to the rain-drenched greenery of Nature with the strains of the sitar creating magic in the hands of Ranjan. Sanjeeb Dutta makes optimum use of his editing skills to round up the rough edges and many twists and turns of the narrative. The sole drawback of the film is the overload of Jennifer Braganza’s character and its fleshing out, which not only drags the narrative with needless footage but also lengthens the film unnecessarily.
Kiriti Roy is sophisticated, classy and also dignified in a manner of speaking. It’s well worth a watch and a nice, solid way to round off the year.
Bengali, Thriller, Color and Black & White