Thursday, July 23, 2015

Ebar Shabor [dir. Arindam Sil]

While ostensibly a murder mystery with a trademark eccentric sleuth (the title itself is a play on the previously released Abar Byomkesh), whodunit (and how) is the least of the script's concerns. Physical investigation of the crime scene and accessory locations, forensic studies, circumstantial evidence - the tools of the normal detective story - barely come into play here. What we have is more in the vein of character exploration. By a series of interrogations, with some subjects repeatedly questioned in the light of new information, the film is more concerned with unraveling the facets of the ensemble cast, including the victim herself. To be sure this is no L' Avventura style meditation on the modern human condition, not by a thousand miles. But the film is not ashamed of its simplicity and sincere enough to its premise to make it worth the sitting through, at least for me.

Fans of Bengali sleuth movies will find amusing meta-trivia in the casting. Saswata Chatterjee, who previously played the Watson-esque parts of Topshe in the Feluda series and Ajit in the Byomkesh Bakshi films, is cast as Police Detective Shabor Dasgupta, while Abir Chatterjee, the new face of both Feluda and Byomkesh at the cinema, plays a pivotal supporting role. Shabor's approach to questioning his suspects is to first provoke them by accusing them of the crime, and then draw out the facts he wants. He has a deadpan demeanor, and is egoistic and abrasive (thankfully not so much as some of the newer portrayals of Sherlock Holmes), but can be compassionate on occasion and is not averse to putting aside the rulebook.

Typically, the supporting characters in a detective film tend to be flat, hastily scribbled out caricatures that at various points fulfill the role of potential suspects (complete with shifty glances and sweat-lined brows). This film is more interested in giving us a rounded portrayal, doling out information in select dollops till we get a more complete picture of each person. It also helps that the actors are very good in their parts. There are no deliciously complex layers or noir elements, and the writing could definitely have been better, but the overall effect of this approach is pleasant and engaging.

You could argue that as a detective story it stumbles, because apart from the repeated QA sessions there is no real detective work being done - the actual culprit would likely have been nabbed with much less backtracking if some physical evidence was also analyzed. The chase scenes seem like last minute additions, indifferently shot and making little sense in the context. The overall effect is more that of a telefilm than a cinema feature.

But even tele-films can be an interesting diversion, and Ebar Shabor can in my view definitely be described as an interesting diversion.

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