TALKING FILMS

Rajat Kapoor’s ‘Private Detective’ is pulp for the brain

The never-released cerebral thriller is being shown for the first time in Mumbai.

Rajat Kapoor’s filmmaking career did not start on an auspicious note. Private Detective: Two Plus Two Plus One, made in 1997 after he graduated from the Film and Television Institute of India, was never released. It would take him six years to make his second feature, the crowd-sourced dark comedy Raghu Romeo. The movies have followed in spurts since, and Kapoor has carved out an estimable career in acting and stage direction on the side. Audiences in Mumbai finally have the chance to watch Private Detective at a free screening organised by indie producer Drishyam Films on January 27. The screening is the second in a series called The Masters, and follows a first-time public airing of Sriram Raghavan’s Raman Raghav.

Private Detective betrays the influence of Kapoor’s mentors, Kumar Shahani and Mani Kaul. The stylised acting and shot taking, stilted dialogue delivery (the high-flown Hindi is by Kamal Swaroop), indirect narrative and unconventional genre treatment are all instances of Kapoor trying to straddle between the high-minded pleasures of arthouse cinema and the pulp thrills of noir.

Naseeruddin Shah as ‘Colonel.’
Naseeruddin Shah as ‘Colonel.’

The plot covers infidelity, betrayal, murder and blackmail – all par for the course as far as the genre territory is concerned. The central character, an ex-Indian Army officer referred to only as Colonel and played by Naseeruddin Shah, traces his lineage to the crooked shamuses of American noir. Colonel is shadowing Amrita (Kashmira Shah), the sultry wife of businessman Raj (Kenneth Desai). Amrita is two-timing Raj with a common friend Harish (Aly Khan), who is married to Meghna (Shambhavi Kaul). These are the “two plus two” of the title, and the “plus one” is, of course, Colonel, whose role in the affair gets complicated when Amrita is killed.

The cast includes cameos by director Saeed Mirza and Irrfan, in one of his earliest roles as a police inspector. Mumbai is equally a character in the movie, whether it is the grungy worlds that Colonel inhabits, including his modest apartment, his old-fashioned office and the dives where he meets clients, or the stylish abodes of Raj and Harish. The lack of privacy in Mumbai comes handy when Colonel has to collect evidence of Amrita and Harish canoodling. The movie serves several reminders of how beautiful the city was until before the government let builders loose on its precious few open spaces. A few scenes are shot in front of a sea-facing bungalow in Bandra in north Mumbai that is now better known as Mannat, the home of superstar Shah Rukh Khan. The previously open-faced bungalow faces the sea, and and has featured in several films, including Mr India. Its façade is now shielded by high walls, while the hill behind has been covered by buildings.

The bungalow now owned by Shah Rukh Khan and called Mannat.
The bungalow now owned by Shah Rukh Khan and called Mannat.

Private Detective invokes noir conventions but is also a commentary on the genre. In a hilarious sequence, Colonel tries to tail Amrita but loses her – noir is defeated by the logic of Mumbai traffic. The 130-minute narrative is not about the crime, and there is no mystery about who kills Amrita – we see the murderer. The movie’s interest lies in exploring the elegant unravelling of four inter-twined lives. Rafey Mahmood’s gliding, ever-present camera meticulously captures the piece-by-piece demolition of two marriages. Mahmood has shot several of Kapoor’s movies, including Raghu Romeo, Mithya and Aankhon Dekhi. He frames the characters beautifully in close-ups and mid-shots, especially in the sequence in which Meghna realises, by watching Amrita at a disco, that her so-called best friend is having it on with her husband. In another sequence after the murder, Harish looks at his seemingly timid wife with fresh eyes, suddenly aware of how things have changed for the both of them. Nothing, and everything, is said.

There is a lot of watching and being watched in this thriller for the brain. Even Captain’s tawdry photographs, in his view, are minor works of art. When he meets Amrita to bargain for a better deal than the one Raj is offering, he says, “I have been searching for a fan for my artistry.”

That line pretty much sums up the movie.

Amrita and Harish are caught on camera.
Amrita and Harish are caught on camera.
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Advice from an ex-robber on how to keep your home safe

Tips on a more hands-on approach of keeping your house secure.

Home, a space that is entirely ours, holds together our entire world. Where our children grow-up, parents grow old and we collect a lifetime of memories, home is a feeling as much as it’s a place. So, what do you do when your home is eyed by miscreants who prowl the neighbourhood night and day, plotting to break in? Here are a few pre-emptive measures you can take to make your home safe from burglars:

1. Get inside the mind of a burglar

Before I break the lock of a home, first I bolt the doors of the neighbouring homes. So that, even if someone hears some noise, they can’t come to help.

— Som Pashar, committed nearly 100 robberies.

Burglars study the neighbourhood to keep a check on the ins and outs of residents and target homes that can be easily accessed. Understanding how the mind of a burglar works might give insights that can be used to ward off such danger. For instance, burglars judge a house by its front doors. A house with a sturdy door, secured by an alarm system or an intimidating lock, doesn’t end up on the burglar’s target list. Upgrade the locks on your doors to the latest technology to leave a strong impression.

Here are the videos of 3 reformed robbers talking about their modus operandi and what discouraged them from robbing a house, to give you some ideas on reinforcing your home.

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2. Survey your house from inside out to scout out weaknesses

Whether it’s a dodgy back door, a misaligned window in your parent’s room or the easily accessible balcony of your kid’s room, identify signs of weakness in your home and fix them. Any sign of neglect can give burglars the idea that the house can be easily robbed because of lax internal security.

3. Think like Kevin McCallister from Home Alone

You don’t need to plant intricate booby traps like the ones in the Home Alone movies, but try to stay one step ahead of thieves. Keep your car keys on your bed-stand in the night so that you can activate the car alarm in case of unwanted visitors. When out on a vacation, convince the burglars that the house is not empty by using smart light bulbs that can be remotely controlled and switched on at night. Make sure that your newspapers don’t pile up in front of the main-door (a clear indication that the house is empty).

4. Protect your home from the outside

Collaborate with your neighbours to increase the lighting around your house and on the street – a well-lit neighbourhood makes it difficult for burglars to get-away, deterring them from targeting the area. Make sure that the police verification of your hired help is done and that he/she is trustworthy.

While many of us take home security for granted, it’s important to be proactive to eliminate even the slight chance of a robbery. As the above videos show, robbers come up with ingenious ways to break in to homes. So, take their advice and invest in a good set of locks to protect your doors. Godrej Locks offer a range of innovative locks that are un-pickable and un-duplicable. To secure your house, see here.

The article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Godrej Locks and not by the Scroll editorial team.