Soumitra Chattopadhyay and Satyajit Ray
Actor Soumitra Chattapadhyay (left) and director Satyajit Ray: Two towering personalities of the Bengali film industryTwitter

A lot is being said and debated about the growing number of Bengali films based on detectives.

The iconic director, Satyajit Ray, made his investigator Feluda immortal on screen in the early 1970s after writing several stories on him, and it was the beginning of a trend that has gained traction in recent years.

Ray did not do more than two films on Feluda (the death of Santosh Dutta, the more than perfect Jatayu of the Feluda troika, had left him dispirited) but his son Sandeep and other filmmakers of his time have been generating one film after another based on detectives.

Besides Feluda, films are also being made on Byomkesh Bakshi, another iconic truth-finder created by renowned Bengali litterateur Saradindu Bandyopadhyay; Shabar Dasgupta, a detective character penned by veteran author Shirsendu Mukhopadhyay and Kiriti Roy, a sleuth who was made popular by novelist Nihar Ranjan Gupta.

Too many detective flicks in Tollywood

Now, detective films are being made in such high numbers that film experts and critics in Tollywood (as the Bengali film industry is popularly called, and not to be confused with the far larger Telugu film industry of the same name) are asking whether they have become a life-saver for the industry and how safe is the industry if it has to bank on such films for its survival?

The question is valid.

From a time when films on popular sleuths were more the exception, they have now become the rule. In defence of this trend, it is being said that films on these branded detectives are a surefire success, in a small market.

The money invested comes back, compared to other films that are considered good but not commercially viable. While film-makers are happy to peddle plots and characters created years ago, critics are worried that this trend is not doing the industry any favours in widening its reach. They feel good non-detective films are required if the industry has to march forward. The excuse of a small market and budgets is not going to save it either.

Bengal film industry has stagnated, feel veteran actors

In a recent debate held on this very issue on a major Bengali news channel, actor-turned-politician Chiranjeet Chakraborty said the vacuum created after the death of Bengal's biggest matinee idol Uttam Kumar and the departure of its biggest female star Suchitra Sen from films, had hurt the industry and the market and budgets still remain small.

Another veteran actor and filmmaker Anjan Dutta also echoed the same sentiment, saying detective films have become a safe bet for filmmakers in an industry that is not seeing a hopeful future.

But the past can't be the only reason for stagnation

It is true that the exits of Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen have hurt the Bengali film industry immensely, but that can't remain an eternal excuse.

No film industry gets the services of its best artistes forever. Phases of ups and downs are common, but an industry doesn't lose its way as a result of that. Given Bengal's rich literary past, such excuses sound all the more hollow.

Why are only detectives are being 'roped in' to save films, if indeed there is a feeling that only great content from the past can do the job? How many films are being made nowadays, based on the rich literature that Bengal offers, apart from the sleuths?

It's actually a short-cut and lazy way to success or rather, to save one's skin. And the responsibility of this slide also lies with the artistes of the industry and not just the minds that are always thinking from business angles.

How much concern have veteran actors shown for the industry's well-being?

How much are veterans of the Bengal film industry doing to save it, if indeed they are feeling that the future is bleak? In the past few years, it has been seen that actors and actresses from the state, both current and past, have been more interested in politics, actively or passively.

A number of them have been seen contesting elections, mostly for the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, besides the BJP, and becoming members of either the state Assembly or Parliament.

Barring Prosenjit Chatterjee, the veteran actor who has still maintained a lead, many other leading actors and actresses have gone on to become politicians or supporters of the establishment. This is worrying as it is this generation of cine stars that served the Bengali film industry best after the death of the great Uttam Kumar.

With so many artistes deciding to try their luck in politics, one wonders how the industry, which is already a small one, can survive.

Politics over films: Is it fair?

Artistes have their own ways of protesting a cause. Cinema can be a powerful medium to make a social or political statement. But in Bengal, a large number of veteran film artistes have conveniently chosen to actively involve themselves in party politics for reasons best known to themselves.

Veteran actresses like Moon Moon Sen and Roopa Ganguly are known for their in-depth understanding of film as an effective artform, but they have found it more convenient to either side with, or oppose, Mamata Banerjee, and devote time to a kind of politics which can do little in bettering the state's public life. And even if they have done so aiming for the greater good, how much have they been able to achieve all these years, apart from courting one petty controversy or another?

Wasn't it a bigger responsibility for the experienced cine stars to stand by the industry that is suffering grave challenges, and not just stand in the queue to pocket tickets to contest elections?

One must also keep in mind that actors ignoring the discipline that has given them their identities do not have the capacity to win elections by themselves. At the end of the day, they need Mamata's blessings to win an election.

The political parties also rope them in just to cash in on their popular appeal. There is virtually no gain in this entire excersise, yet artistes conveniently overlook their duty of helping their industry crawl back to proper shape and leave everything for the fictitious sleuths to take care of.

What a pity for an industry that had once led the nation!