The murder mystery genre is found lacking in Bollywood. There are thrillers abound and the last memorable one was maybe the atmospheric Talaash. But the old school crime detective stories are nowhere to be found. Maybe the genre is best left to Malayalam and this thought is further enhanced by the drabness of the frustrating Samrat & Co. It is blatantly dressed up as a desi Sherlock Holmes story and there is nothing wrong with that. But the film is devoid of the charm of the character and the grace of the storytelling. It’d have been great if it was pulp but the material is played so over the top that it is no surprise this is from the Rajshri stable.
The mystery itself is intriguing enough at first. It starts out as a lookout for the supernatural in a confined space with myriad characters (all shoddily written) set in a location fairly above sea level – Shimla. Then there is a murder and we are in a more worldly footing. The supernatural pointers are conveniently forgotten. There is a Shakespeare and Hamlet reference in the beginning. People repeatedly hide behind curtains and there is a literal backstabbing. Ghosts talk. But we are in the wrong film for these readings to be taken to their logical conclusion.
Rajeev Khandelwal’s Samrat Tilakdhari (who goes by the shorthand STD, believe it or not) is presented as a cocktail of the original Sherlock Holmes and Guy Ritchie’s Robert Downey Jr version. At some level this would have made sense for an Indian adaptation. But the heroism and laughable antics get grating after a point. The greatest sin is including an unnecessary, uninteresting Watson into the mix. The character is reduced to a sidekick and at best a parody of the original. Not that anything else is well adapted. From his earlier films we know Khandelwal can act but he comes across as a little too sincere for this film. Everyone around him has realized that they are in a parody. The procedural is derivative, there is absolutely no direction or staging and the performances are atrocious (Oh why Girish Karnad!).
The detective genre needs to be entertained in Bollywood. But if it’s got only Samrat & Co to show for itself it is best left alone. Or to repeat – to Malayalam films.