As a 90’s kid living in India, the famed Akbar-Birbal stories were part of my growing up years – firstly, thanks to the Amar Chitra Katha comics, and secondly, courtesy the animated series on Cartoon Network. Known for his sharp mind, analytical skills, and quirky wit, Birbal was one of Akbar’s ‘Navaratna’ (nine gems).
From mundane matters pertaining to state of affairs, to something as absurd as counting the number of crows in the kingdom – popular tales of Birbal encompassed it all. So, it was absolutely intriguing to land a book about ‘detective’ Birbal who is entrusted with solving a murder mystery. ‘The Tree Bears Witness’ by Sharath Komarraju shows us a new side to the popular historical figure.
Given the times we live in, where any reference to historical figures is met with a threat to life, or a bounty on the head, it is brave of the writer to pen a fictional tale of the murder of Sujjamal, brother of the newly-wedded Rajput queen of Emperor Akbar. Imagine an envoy of a foreign country dying under mysterious circumstances in India – Sujjamal’s murder has similar far-reaching political consequences, as his marriage with the Rajput princess was a political manoeuvre.
Given the gravity of the situation, Akbar turns to his trusted lieutenant to bring the perpetrator to justice using his famed grey matter. While Birbal sets on the task, he has a herculean challenge laid out before him. Palace politics plays out, as powerful people try to throw Birbal off-course in his task. An innocent scape-goat is jailed for convenience and rivalries play out in a way that makes Birbal’s work even more arduous.
The brisk pace of the story, with all the twists, makes this novel an enjoyable read. Birbal could very well be a modern-day CBI sleuth who is investigating the murder of a diplomat; the spirit of the story would remain intact. The delectable writing, with historical setting, set this book a class apart. The climax, where Birbal assembles the entire royal clan to reveal the murderer, reminded me of how Feluda always finished his cases.
Overall, ‘The Tree Bears Witness’ by Sharath Komarraju is an exciting murder mystery that adds a dash of history to a fictional tale of whodunit. If you read between the lines, the political subtext in the novel will surely impress you.
My Rating: 4/5 stars
P.S. The review copy of the book was provided by Amazon.
DISCLAIMER: All Images Used In This Book Have Their Respective Copyrights
I had ended my review of ‘Ebar Shabor’ with the lines, “Looking forward to more adventures of Shabor Dasgupta – the sleuth with a heart – in years to come”. Needless to say, Arindam Sil has recreated the magic of Shabor Dasgupta in his second adventure ‘Eagoler Chokh’ (Eye of the Eagle). Shabor is truly the ‘Sleuth of the Year’. Crisp, witty, sharp – the murder mystery will keep you the edge till the end.
By now, any fan of Bengali sleuth flicks would know what a powerhouse of talent Arindam Sil is. Razor-sharp writing, screenplay that keeps the thrill intact throughout the movie, performances to die for and haunting score, the second installment of Shabor series gets full marks in every quarter. Shabor Dasgupta was a welcome break from the tonnes of Feluda and Byomkesh films, and the freshness of the flavour is intact in this film too.
‘Eagoler Chokh’ picks up the strings where ‘Ebar Shabor’ left them – right from the chase sequence in the beginning to the indomitable style of Shabor’s problem-solving, the director has recreated the magic of the first film. But Shabor is riddled with an overbearing guilt in his heart. He is constantly at war with his subconscious self; Sil’s treatment of Shabor’s mental feuds has been splendid throughout. In the middle of this tussle, he is drawn into a murder mystery.
‘Eagoler Chokh’ is much more than a who-dun-it thriller. It delves into the psyche of people, the deep layers of human thought process, tries to analyse how the mind works. That is why we empathise with Bishan Roy (played to perfection by Anirban Bhattacharya) who has a charm that attracts women towards him – despite being told he turns into an animal in the company of women.
Bishan has many women in his life – his wife Shivangi, with whom he does not even share a room. Shivangi’s friend-cum-business-partner Nandini lives with them and has tried to seduce Bishan on several occasions. There is a teenage girl Janhabi in the flat too. And there are dark secrets of the past, which open a can of worms when revealed.
A cerebral thriller would fall flat without performances up to the mark; in this regard all actors pass with flying colours. Saswata Chatterjee easily fits into the skin of any character, Shabor being no exception. On one hand he is an emotionless sleuth whose only job is to bring crooks to justice. On the other hand he is empathetic to Bishan, who is coping with a mental conflict like him.
Essaying Bishan’s character is not easy – essaying the nuances of psychotic stress can often become melodramatic. Anirban Bhattacharya easily jumps from blank expressions to guilt-ridden self. The other actor who makes this film classier is undoubtedly Joya Ahsan. The way she emotes with her eyes is a lesson for upcoming actors.
Calcutta too is a character in the film. It seems every location of the shoot had been selected after much deliberation. From the small eatery where Shabor and his assistant have dinner to the ghats of Ganga, Soumik Halder’s camera work breathes life into the city. Like the different layers of human psyche, we are introduced to the various underbellies of our own city like never before.
The captain of the ship definitely deserves a big ‘thank you’ from the Bengali film audience for bringing the thrill back to the theatres. He has dealt with a subject so delicate with extreme finesse. He gives us the ‘bird’s eye view’ of a crime on a canvas splattered with shades of grey.
‘Eagoler Chokh’ gives us hope that Shabor Dasgupta will help us understand our society better in the future offerings too.
My Rating: 4/5 stars
DISCLAIMER: All Images Used In This Post Have Their Respective Copyrights