Phil Cox's vivid docu "The Bengali Detective" follows a pudgy private dick who leads a ragtag sleuthing team as they investigate murder, adultery and counterfeiting in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta).

Stranger than fiction, but lensed as if it were, Phil Cox’s vivid docu “The Bengali Detective” follows a pudgy private dick who leads a ragtag sleuthing team as they investigate murder, adultery and counterfeiting in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) — and train to compete as dancers on a TV talent show. That all these endeavors appear to be of roughly equal importance to detective Rajesh jI — if not to Cox — is the pic’s running gag and, one surmises, a key reason for Fox Searchlight’s purchase of remake rights. Ironically, a Stateside distributor of the docu may prefer the U.S. version to appear first.

Bollywood-style musicvid interludes punctuate the pic, which opens with the Kolkata crew (known only by first names) orchestrating “Operation Tiger,” their code moniker for a raid on an allegedly fake shampoo biz. Cox’s habit of alternating between the absurd and the gravely serious grows formulaic over feature length, although the details of Rajesh’s inquiry into a savage triple homicide — along with his struggle to cope with his wife’s potentially fatal disease — keep the film compelling. Standout tech contributions include camerawork that captures the hustle of city and dancing detective alike.

The Bengali Detective

U.K.-India-U.S.

Production

A Native Voice Films presentation of a Frequent Flyer Films, Break Thru Films production, in association with Almega Projects, Channel 4 Britdoc Foundation, Sabotage Films, Thought Engine, Reliance Media Works. Produced by Giovanna Stopponi, Annie Sundberg, Himesh Kar. Executive producers, Angus Aynsley, Karol Martesko-Fenster, Gernot Schaffler, Thomas Brunner, Jon Thompson. Directed by Phil Cox.

Crew

Camera (color, HD), Lisa Cazzato-Vieyra; editors, Taimur Khan, Tom Hemmings; music, Dennis Wheatley; assistant director, Sounak Chakravorty. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (competing), Jan. 27, 2011. Running time: 96 MIN.

With

Rajesh jI, Ramesh, Deepti, Minnie, Gaurav, Dibindu. (Hindi, English, Bengali dialogue)

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