Name one famous detective from Bollywood. I am not talking about secret agents or cops, but good old-fashioned private detective like Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot. I am yet to come up with a name. While the small screen has produced iconic detectives like Karamchand, Sam (Tahqiqat) and even created a show called Raja and Rancho, where detective Raja is assisted by his monkey Rancho in solving mysteries. I am certain this show was the inspiration behind the famous children's show Dora the Explorer. Jokes apart, none of these traveled to the big screen, until now, when Byomkesh Bakshi is all set to make his big screen debut. Also, Byomkesh Bakshi is easily India's favourite detective. While some may argue that Satyajit Ray's Feluda is equally well known. Feluda's TV show featuring Sashi Kapoor as Feluda, was not a hit, in fact, very few remember that show.
Many Byomkesh purists are unhappy about the transition. For them Rajit Kapoor and K.K Raina were the perfect Byomkesh and Ajit, and honestly who can disagree with that? It was indeed an excellent series. In fact, it's very difficult to imagine anyone else as Byomkesh and Ajit. But now we finally have YRF joining hands with Dibakar Banerjee to give Byomkesh a completely new look. At least that's what we can gather from the teaser. But the film is important for two reasons. First, before Byomkesh no other iconic Indian detective has made it to Bollywood. Second, we have finally started making movies based on TV shows. After the very watchable Khichdi, it's a surprise that there was no rush in turning TV shows into movies.
Bollywood has made plenty of crime thrillers and murder mysteries. Yet they have failed to give us one memorable detective. Recently Bobby Jasoos and Samrat & Co were total washouts at the Box Office. Both films had talented artists in lead roles, but somehow detectives have so far never done well Bollywood. Even Badshah as Badshah failed! So did Raj Kapoor as Gopichand Jasoos. Admittedly, both Gopichand and Badshah were stupid sleuths who managed to solve their case because they got lucky. But neither of them came back with a sequel. Raj Kapoor had earlier done Do Jasoos where he also played an inept detective along with Rajendra Kumar. Stupid detectives were pretty popular as comic sub-plots. But none of them have stayed in the public memory. But so far I have only talked about films that were not very successful at the Box Office. But surprisingly, detective films that did well at the Box Office neither had a detective worth remembering, nor were there any sequels.
For example, Dev Anand never came back as CID inspector Shekhar after his supremely successful crime thriller CID. While he was no private detective, he had all the characteristics of a sleuth, and interestingly, most of our Bollywood jasoos are CID inspectors in disguise. Of course, the name CID today is concomitant with the TV show, which I am surprised, has still not been made into a movie. The director of CID, Raj Khosla, made several popular murder mysteries and crime thrillers, like Woh Kaun Thi, Mera Saaya, and Anita. But none of them fitted the traditional whodunit mould. Similarly, Brij Sadanah made some delightful thrillers like Victoria No.203, Professor Pyarelal, and Bombay 405 Miles. Now, Victoria No.203 featured the thieving pair of Raja and Rana, played by Ashok Kumar and Pran respectively, and had all the elements of a typical detective thriller. It's a pity that Raja and Rana did not come back in another film.
Almost every successful Bollywood filmmaker has dabbled in the crime thrillers and whodunit genre. Shakti Samanta in the early phase of his career made hit thrillers like Howrah Bridge, Jaali Note, Singapore and China Town. Later of course he moved on to focusing on social dramas after the success of Aradhana. B.R Chopra made a brilliant courtroom thriller Kanoon, and he also made two successful whodunits Humraaz and Dhund. Yash Chopra directed Itefaq, an absolute cliffhanger, but none of these films featured a prominent detective. Hrishikesh Mukherjee directed Buddha Mil Gaya, Nasir Hussain made Teesri Manzil, but like the others none of them were detective stories. Low budget mysteries were very popular in the 60s, and it would be unfair to miss out N.A Ansari who gave us fun films like Tower House, Wanted, Black Cat, and the sci-fi thriller Wahan ke Log. Now we have Abbas Mastan, the duo that has given us films like Baazigar, Khiladi, Ajnabee, 36 China Town and Race. Indeed, Race had a sequel, Anil Kapoor was fantastic as RD, but that's where it ends. They too did not give us a sleuth to love.
Interestingly, every big star has tried their hand at sleuthing, but they have all failed to give us one memorable detective. Dilip Kumar in Dastaan, Amitabh Bachchan in Benaam and Majboor, Rajesh Khanna in The Train and Raaz, Dharmendra in Kab, Kyon aur Kahan, and Shikar, Sanjeev Kumar in Anhonee, Manoj Kumar in Gumnaam, Anita, and Poonam ki Raat, Raj Kumar in Police Public and Humraaz, Jeetendra in Jal Mahal, Mithun Chakrabarti in Kaun Kaise, and this of course is a rather scanty list.
We have no idea how Detective Byomkesh Bakshi will turn out. But finally, he has arrived, and we hope he paves the way for other detectives. But before I wind up, the Kapoors deserve a special mention for attempting to do jasoosi for generations. I have already mentioned Raj Kapoor's Gopichand Jasoos, Randhir Kapoor along with Neetu Singh tried his hands at unsuccessful investigating in Dhongee, Babita was Biswajeet's aide in Kismat, Rishi Kapoor successfully solved a case in Kaun Saccha Kaun Jhootha, Karishma Kapoor almost solved the mystery in Baaz, Kareena helped catch terrorists in Kurban, and finally, Ranbir will become Jagga Jasoos.