India / 81 minutes / color with some bw / Indie Farm Dir & Pr & Scr: Sareesh Sudhakaran Cine: J. Shanmuganathan, Ajit Naik Cast: Tarun Singh Negi, Swati Shetty, Ajay Gatlewar, Prakash Jha, Hemu Adhikari, Prema Sakhardande, Arvind Wahi, Thressiamma Mathew, Minnakshi Das, Surya Rao, Ajay Tripathi, Raj Kishore Verma, Rakesh Kumar, Sandeep Solaskar, Lalitendu Paikray, Rahul Patil, Mahesh Sharma, Ravi Raaj Patel.
An indie movie of really quite extraordinary interest, showing a remarkable sophistication of technique in its visual storytelling as well as a screenplay that presents us with something that’s hard enough to pull off on the printed page, let alone on the screen: a genuinely challenging locked-room mystery. At one point our voiceover narrator (Patel) makes reference to John Dickson Carr’s The Hollow Man (1935; vt The Three Coffins) as the greatest locked-room mystery of all time—an evaluation with which many would concur. This movie is certainly up to Carr’s general standard; one can imagine him applauding it mightily. A little known but very good cast, some of whom share their names with their characters, add to the conviction of the presentation.
Parvati (Swati Shetty) wakes outside her mistress’s door.
In the early morning of July 19 2006 an elderly woman, Maria D’Silva (Mathew), was murdered in her locked bedroom in her house on the outskirts of a small village. The only person on the premises was her longstanding live-in maid Parvati (Shetty), who was sleeping on the floor across her door. Hearing cries of distress from within the room, Parvati summoned the servant Rajiv (Gatlewar) and two men who’d been working with him on the draining of a pond that had become poisonous, Sandeep Solaskar (Solaskar) and Lalitendu Paikray (Paikray); Rajiv then hailed Constable Vijay (Jha), an honest but somewhat dimwitted local cop. By the time the men had succeeded in breaking down the door, Maria was lying in a pool of blood on her bedroom floor, her moans of anguish finally silenced.
Constable Vijay (Prakash Jha) views the scene.
The mysterious boots in the wardrobe.
Vijay searched the room, as did the forensics people after him, and all agreed: door and window were sealed and there was no trace within the room of any murder weapon, let alone the murderer. Maria had a deep wound on her palm, and had been stabbed twice in the belly; it was assumed the palm wound came about as she tried to defend herself. The only major anomaly the cops found was a pair of dirty men’s boots in Maria’s wardrobe. Inspector Raghav (Wahi), the investigating officer, wasn’t fazed by any of the murder’s more enigmatic aspects—such as the fact that it was impossible—and arrested the easiest suspect, Parvati. The fact that he had to suppress some incongruous evidence didn’t concern him—and still doesn’t, as he explains to an unseen interviewer three years later.
Raghav (Arvind Wahi) explains himself to the interviewer.
That unseen interviewer is a mysterious character called Siddhartha (Negi), who has decided to reopen the case for reasons we never discover. We never discover what he looks like, either; he keeps his back perpetually toward us, so that in effect he becomes our eyes. Just to distance him further from ordinary narrative “reality,” he’s voiced by a different actor (Patel) and he sometimes moves within a stylized animated landscape.
Flashback to the forensics investigators working the scene.
Lt-Col Immanuel (Hemu Adhikari) — does he have something to hide?
Siddhartha soon finds there are discrepancies in the story of what went on that night in August 2006. Local dignitary Lieutenant-Colonel (retd) “Manuel” Immanuel (Adhikari) and his splendidly acerbic wife Teresa (Sakhardande) fill him in on the fact that the once-beautiful Maria was married to the Immanuels’ friend Lieutenant-Colonel John D’Silva; the couple had two children. But then suddenly Maria disappeared for a month, having run off with a lover—or so everyone thought. The shock gave John D’Silva a major stroke that kept him paralyzed until, not long after, a second stroke killed him. Maria’s kids hated her for, as they thought, causing the death of their father, and they left home as soon as they could.
Maria (Thressiamma Mathew) and Parvati (Swati Shetty) were like mother and child.
As Siddhartha investigates he finds Raghav impenitent and the local cops—Constables Tripathi (Tripathi), Verma (Verma) and Raj (Kumar)—more interested in ragging Vijay over his supposed stupidity than in recognizing their own. They produce plenty of hypotheses—all rancid—as to how the killing could have been perpetrated.
Siddhartha (Tarun Singh Negi) surveys the evidence.
Slowly Siddhartha teases further information out of the Immanuels, out of the manager of the nearby Serene Lodge motel, Mahesh Sharma (Sharma), and especially out of the imprisoned Parvati. When Maria disappeared for a month all those years ago, it wasn’t for a torrid fling but because she was abducted by an unknown assailant, raped repeatedly, and then abandoned in the woods to die. She was discovered and saved by a certain Major Rathore (Patil) and his men; it was Rathore who got Parvati her position as Maria’s maid, he having been Parvati’s bigamous husband and seemingly trying to make reparations to both women. The day of the murder he phoned the house to tell Maria and Parvati that he thought he’d identified Maria’s rapist after all these years; he promised to come to supper but he never turned up . . .
On the night of the murder, Parvati (Swati Shetty) tries to catch sight of a mysterious intruder.
The movie doesn’t lack humor. Much of that humor comes from interpolated news segments in which a TV host (Rao) is fed on-the-spot reports by his obviously far more intelligent reporter Preeti (Das). Headlines scroll beneath her as she talks, and we gradually become aware that these are quite surreal, even by Fox News standards: “Miss India–Universe apologizes to fans for birthmark.”
Preeti (Minnakshi Das) reports on the investigation and, more importantly, the prospects for India’s cricket team.
It’s not just John Dickson Carr whom Siddhartha obviously reveres: Sherlock Holmes gets a look in too. “There are only two kinds of problems,” says Siddhartha early on: “Problems that can be solved, and problems that are misunderstood.” Later he paraphrases Holmes’s famous remark to the effect that, once you’ve eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, is likely to be the truth. He seems, too, to be a sort of anonymous voice if integrity juxtaposed against the cops who were involved in the case. Raghav, without the slightest trace of irony, explains to Siddhartha that, as he’s a public servant, it’s his duty as a cop to deliver to the public what they want, which is a quick conviction—the guilt or innocence of the person convicted is secondary. Of the local cops we see, Vijay stands out among his fellows not because he’s unusually thick, as they suggest—they all are—but because he’s the only one who’s prepared to insist upon the facts as he knows them: the rest merrily invent.
The killer finally reveals himself.
This movie is a million miles from Bollywood in so many senses. Much of the narrative (I wasn’t counting the minutes but I’d suspect it’s well over half) is presented in the form of a (supposedly) true-crime documentary, with various talking heads giving interviews: Raghav’s are horribly realistic, those conducted with the Immanuels are informative but also often extremely funny, usually when Teresa intervenes to correct her husband.
The Impossible Murder is a very clever movie, and I can’t imagine it not appealing to any fan of classical written mysteries. The solution to the crime, when it comes, is absolutely fair and yet completely out of left field. It would be really nice to see this get a big-screen outing.
Hell and Paradise.