Mixing noir with fantasy

Holmes in india

Mixing noir with fantasy

 Suspense in Shillong: Still from ‘Gumshuda’.Viswanathan, the director of a number of arthouse films as well as documentaries, has adopted a middle-of-the-road approach in tackling the Sherlock Holmes classic, keeping its thriller element intact along with his sensibilities.

Viswanathan has transposed the story onto the landscape of the Scotland of the East, as Meghalaya is popularly known. By making the film in Hindi, he has ensured that the film would have the potential of accessing a pan-India audience. The director has taken an ensemble cast comprising Victor Banerjee, Rajit Kapur, Priyanshu Chatterjee, Simone Singh and Raj Zutshi to tell his story that has to do with the famed detective, or his Indian avatar played by Kapur who is trying to resolve a case involving diamonds and death. While the story retains the flavour of the story from which it has been adapted, the use of Meghalaya as the location lends a special beauty to the film.

Viswanathan had specific reasons for adapting a Sherlock Holmes story and also for using Meghalaya as location. “I wanted to do a film noir in the Indian context, and with elements of fantasy. Something that would be more than just finding the criminal. So I thought the best place to go for inspiration would be Arthur Conan Doyle. Having read the Sign of Four, I found that Meghalaya would be the right place for it. Not only do we have an Indian detective playing Sherlock Holmes, we have the original literary Sherlock Holmes also there along the river, in a place called Umtingar in the Jaintia Hills, which imparts a fantasy element to the movie,” says the director.

“We wanted to explore the Meghalaya landscape, which is known as the Scotland of the East. Doyle is known as a British writer but he is from Edinburgh. Our idea was to adapt the story to Indian conditions, but also something beyond that, because the adaptation that my father N Viswanathan has done has a literary backdrop with subtle nuances,” he says. “The story is set in a cold place with colonial houses, open spaces and a big boat chase at the end, for which we chose the Umiam, the lake of tears, near Shillong.”
Viswanathan has lent a touch of reality to the film by referring to real events in the region. For example, while the shooting was going on in Shillong, the serial blasts in Guwahati happened (2008), and there are indirect references to it in the film.

Selecting Rajit Kapur for the detective’s role in Gumshuda, in which the story starts with a nightclub singer (Simone Singh) receiving a fistful of diamonds from an unknown source, was the easy part for the director. “Rajat had played Byomkesh Bakshi earlier, but his character is not at all like that. He is a bumbling detective, eccentric, idiosyncratic, drinks and quarrels a lot, and is seen as a misogynist, though actually he is not. Rajit is a thinking actor, and he has been able to bring out all the nuances,” says Viswanathan. According to him, while Simone Singh gives a very convincing performance, the film’s surprise factor is Priyanshu Chatterjee.

The film has music by tabla player Bickram Ghose, who has used a lot of instruments to create a special ambience that suits the subject as well as the locale. “We have used a Khasi song by a group from Shillong called Dohar. Since Meghalaya is dominated by Christians, we have used church bells in the music. We have also used a string instrument typical of Meghalaya. A song titled ‘Dhundo’ by Sonu Nigam would be something to look out for,” Viswanathan says.

Interestingly, Simon Wilson, who was the British Deputy High Commissioner based in Kolkata during the period the film was shot, appears in the film as the real Sherlock Holmes. “Wilson’s appearance happened just like that. I was acting in a play which he had come to watch. I thought he looked like Sherlock Holmes, and asked if he would act. He was very hesitant because there are diplomatic issues. Finally, we quietly went to Umtingar to do the shooting. But by the time we had finished, the local press had got wind of his presence. How they found out probably calls for an investigation by Holmes himself, but then it was worth it,” says Viswanathan.

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