Three Takes On The Stoneman Murders

We love suspense. We love mysteries. We love unsolved cases. In my opinion, the best detective stories are those that encourage the reader/audience to participate in the investigation process. That means, all aspects of the case are placed before the reader, and the reader is encouraged to provide solution. I remember one TV series — perhaps titled Apraadhi Kaun?— where every story was presented in two parts. In the first part, all details of the case were investigated and presented. The viewers were then asked who they think had committed the crime. It was an open competition. Viewers would send postcards. In the second part, the winner was announced and also the solution of the case was shown.

There are several unsolved cases, which still challenge our imagination. In fact, there are several books and websites dedicated to unsolved mysteries. Today I will tell you about theatrical presentation of one such case which had kept our police forces occupied in the late 1980s —  a case which still remains unsolved. Yes, I am talking about the Stoneman Murders.

I encourage you to check Wikipedia to know all details of the case. In short, a series of killings took place in (then) Calcutta, where 13 people were killed by smashing their heads with stone. Hence the attacker came to be called as Stoneman. Till date, nobody knows who that person was or what was the motive behind the attacks. Interestingly, no motive could be guessed, because all victims were extremely poor people, who used to sleep on the pavements or railway platforms or streets. That is the whole story.

To the best of my knowledge, this particular case is the focus of three pieces of performing art. I personally liked all three of them, though for different reasons, and would recommend them to you. Please note that these are neither remakes (like Drishyam), nor simultaneous creation in different languages (like Bahubali). The movies and performance that I am going to mention are different perspectives and interpretations of the same case. It is somewhat similar to the open competition of the serial Apraadhi Kaun that I mentioned earlier. You can say, here the writers, directors, and producers have submitted their own solutions of the Stoneman case.

Baishey Srabon is a  Bengali movie with Prosenjit and Parambrat in lead roles. Parambrat is the young inspector-in-charge of this case. He has got clues and evidence, but not sufficient to crack the case. So his superior suggests him to take the help of Prosenjit, an ex-cop who was suspended for using violent methods in investigations. Prosenjit now leads a secluded life, drinking heavily. In the screenplay of this movie, one additional detail is added to the original case. At the site of each assault, the attacker leaves a slip of paper with verses from some famous poet’s composition. As it turned out, the date of the murder coincided with that poet’s death anniversary. Was I able to convey it properly? Or have I confused you?

The movie is a masterpiece, with something for each viewer. There are narrations of poetry by great Indian masters. There is romance, comedy, action, excellent music, background score and cinematography. Parambrat does justice to his role. But Prosenjit shines above the rest. The only feature of the movie that surpasses even him is the dialogues, which is the strongest point of the movie. But be careful, the movie was given ‘A‘ by censor board for its dialogues. You know what I mean . . .

The Stoneman Murders is a Hindi Bollywood movie with Kay Kay Menon in the central role. While investigating the case, a criminal gets killed by Menon in lockup, leading to Menon’s suspension from police force. But he continues his investigation. The story line is straight and simple, and if you have been watching Bollywood movies for a sufficiently long time, then you would be able to guess it on your own how the story would unfold. Quite unfortunately for him, while he was making rounds in the streets of the city in night, yet another murder was committed. And to make matter worse and more complicated, the police vehicle would be somewhere around. In other words, Menon would be seen present at the murder spot by the police, with all circumstantial evidence implicating him. And the process continues.

I never liked Menon, and was always surprised how could an actor with such a plain and featureless face could survive in the movie world. But that opinion and impression changed after watching The Stoneman Murders. This was the first movie that I had seen in which Menon had played a significant role. And he made good use of the opportunity to show his real talent. True, by all means this is a Menon movie. Watch it, and fall in love with this genius actor. The story and the technicals are ordinary and in line with peculiar Bollywood movies. Virendra Saxena and Vikram Gokhale play supporting roles, but they do not have much scope to show their talent, so that they are as always very predictable. Arbaaz Khan slips into his role of rival inspector smoothly and effortlessly.

Third presentation based on the Stoneman murders is by stand up comedian Sourav Ghosh. This is the same guy who got into trouble for his show on Mumbai airports. Rest you can imagine yourself. Sometimes I feel that Ghosh loves being controversial. He is always witty and his presence of mind almost always leaves you in awe. He has developed his own style of narration, which is that of a middle class citizen highly annoyed, irritated and agitated on the state of the nation. In his show on Criminals, he spent couple of minutes on Stoneman murders. I suggest that you watch this short video and see for yourself how Ghosh highlighted peculiar aspects of the case which never came to your mind. Some examples are — “You know the economic condition of a state is bad when its biggest serial killer can’t even afford a knife. He (Stoneman) was a genius, achieved his task with limited means . . . was never caught, instead retired . . .  even to this day police is looking for fingerprints in stones . . .”

Hope you like them.

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