Tadanto means ‘investigation.’ Directed by Nitish Roy, who has won a string of National Awards for production design, Tandanto is a murder mystery focussed on two thwarted love stories. It brings together, for the first time on the Bengali screen, three of the most outstanding stalwarts in contemporary Bengali theatre namely Debshankar Haldar, Gautam Haldar and Koushik Sen in three very out-of-the-box characters within the story.
Because of the amorphous boundaries of the thriller that defies specific definition, Tadanto gives the viewer the feeling of a multi-channeled focus where director Nitish Roy has invested the narrative with every mainstream ingredient one can imagine – a murder, an adulterous love story, property disputes, Marxist arguments, domestic violence, generous doses of sex and skin show, item numbers, songs and music, a triangular love-hate relationship between and among a hard-core prostitute Mona (Rituparna Sengupta), her pimp (Gautam Haldar) and the murder victim. All these sub-plots tied together with the investigation strategies of Inspector De Sarkar (Debshankar Haldar).
His investigation forms the backbone and the focus of action that cuts back and forth to and from flashbacks to the investigation to narrate the other stories. The story could have clipped some characters that somehow chips off the cutting edge of thrills and suspense one waits for with bated breath in a murder mystery. The deaf old maid for instance, does not contribute to the story at all nor do the two prostitutes in the red light area where Mona practices her trade hoping against hope that one day, Dinesh might marry her. The other red herring added to lay out as many suspects as possible is Dulal (Badhshah Maitra, Dinesh’s cousin who however, does a very good job of the character.
Rituparna as Mona does a daring item number based on an old Runa Laila hit song Je Jon Premer Bhaab Janena in a see-through skirt and a shimmering bustier which establishes her character. However, the story does not give her the footage she needed and it seems that her recently acquired ‘oomph’ image has been used more generously than other things. Debshankar peppers his portrayal with punches of humour, satire, action, violence, detecting skills and the rest. He does not bring his theatre hangover into his films which one cannot say of every theatre actor. Koushik Sen is fine but he is being constantly stereotyped in film after film in negative roles and that holds him back from exploring different shades of violence too. The cameos – the two drivers, Abhi’s affectionate mother, Priya’s father, Kalyan Chatterjee, as Dinesh’s old retinue are very convincing and good.
Rahul and Priyanka as Abhinandan and Nishi, the young lovers separated by Nishi’s arrogant and snob father Kashinath Mullick (Biswajit Chakraborty) add the much-needed spice to an otherwise getting-repetitive narrative. Their performances, specially Priyanka’s are sparkling and her talent is yet to be rightly tapped. Gautam Haldar, a legendary figure in Bengali theatre, spoils the show as the pimp Robi Das with his highly stylised, self-created, loud buffoonery he has turned into a style statement that fails to work and spoils every scene he appears in. He does it in every film which does not work because not every character in every film behaves the same way.
The two outstanding features of this film are (a) the art direction and (b) the dialogue both of which need special commendation. That a film directed by a National Award winning production designer who has won several awards should excel in production design is no surprise. Yet, considering the wide canvas that constantly moves to and from Bhadreshwar to the palatial mansion of Dr Dinesh Choudhury to the narrow bylanes where De Sarkar goes to investigate, through Abhi’s small rented flat, to the parks and the streets of the city, it is all beautifully done. There is one overhead shot of Abhi’s home’s courtyard that shows a straw matting with dry red chillies spread out to dry next to the small earthen oven Abhi’s mother cooks in who comes to console her depressed son lying on a cot. It is a beautiful shot as are the shots of the river banks with the slush where De Sarkar finds out who the killer us. The colourful entrance to Robi Das’s flat is another lovely example of how kitsch art plays an important role in the décor of these lumpen characters that offer striking contrasts with the décor in Dinesh’s and Kashinath Mullick’s palatial mansions respectively.
One fails to grasp what made Nitish Roy place the time-setting in the 1980s because had he placed it in the present time, it would not have made much difference to the total film or to the story. The time setting is precisely established through the minute detailing in every sense except in the way Nishi is dressed in clothes that appear to be very contemporary. A thriller works primarily to evoke feelings of suspense, fright, mystery, exhilaration, excitement, speed and movement and not much of cerebral or emotionally heavy feelings.
All narrative films may be called thrilling to some extent because all of them have elements of suspense, action and a sense of departure from the routine world into a realm that is more marvellous and exciting than the routine stuff dealt out by larger cinema. So, at some point or another, they all becoming thrilling enough, if handled with care and caution, can be considered thrillers. But a murder mystery demands much more than containing suspense just at one point or another. With every twist and turn, the viewer must have goose pimples and want to look away if it is a raw and scary murder mystery. In Tadanto, there are no sensational scenes that keep you on the edge and make you ask yourself, “What now?” or, “Who?” The killer’s identity when revealed in the climax, unfolds, in a manner of speaking, a capitalistic ending where the marginalised is accused of the killing which makes for a sad an anti-climax. This critic would hesitate to call Tadanto a murder mystery. It is more an entertainment package for an adult audience.
Bengali, Thriller, Color