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The Perfect Murder

The Perfect Murder
Home Vision/Merchant Ivory
1988 / Color / 1:85 anamorphic 16:9 / 93 min. / Street Date January 18, 2005 / 19.95
Starring Naseeruddin Shah, Stellan Skarsgaard, Amjad Khan, Madhur Jaffrey, Annu Kapoor, Archana Puran Singh
Cinematography Walter Lassally
Production Designer Sartaj Noorani, Kiran Patki
Art Direction Ram Yedekar
Film Editor Charles Rees
Original Music Richard Robbins
Written by H.R.F. Keating, Zafar Hai from a novel by H.R.F. Keating
Produced by Wahid Chowhan, Ismail Merchant, Donald Rosenfeld
Directed by Zafar Hai

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

This very slight police comedy was Ismail Merchant's attempt (in 1988) to open up a new sub-genre of commercial Indian pictures intended for the international market. The characters have charm and the images of street life in the new Bombay are interesting, but as a comedy or a detective tale the show isn't nearly as funny or arresting as it might be. The main attraction is seeing Swedish actor Stellan Skarsgaard, now familiar from many American films, interact with a collection of eccentric Indian characters. The movie was filmed in English.


Overworked Bombay detective Inspector Ghote (Naseeruddin Shah) can't seem to catch any diamond smugglers and must show around visiting Swedish lawman Axel Svensson (Stellan Skarsgaard) just as he's given an unusual crime to solve: A rich developer's clerk named Mr. Perfect is unconscious in a hospital after being hit in the head. Curiously, everyone keeps referring to the attack as a murder. Ghote cannot get even the slightest cooperation from anyone involved in the case, in particular the developer's humorless wife (Madhur Jaffrey). But the larger crime slowly unravels: It ties in with diamond smuggling and payoffs to a government minister.

The Perfect Murder is derived from popular novelist H.R.F. Keating's mystery-comedy and is clearly meant to satirize arrogant businessmen, pompous public officials and the impossibility for a polite, authority-challenged policeman to solve a crime. The much-abused Inspector Ghote is pleasant but not particularly memorable. We watch him being bullied by his superiors and intimidated by everyone from a government minister to Amjad Khan (Lala Heera Lal), a grossly overweight entrepreneur who acts as if a brutal crime in his household is nobody's business but his own. Khan's stern wife shrugs off Ghote's questions, and everyone else just can't be bothered to cooperate.

Ghote hooks up with Skarsgaard's blandly pleasant Swede, who tags along on the investigation more as a tourist than anything else. Director Zafar Hai's breezy direction highlights interesting details: Pretty girls flirt with Stellan from passing cars and a good-luck ceremony launches the filming of a new Bollywood movie.

Crime never seems a serious issue, beginning with he joke about "the perfect murder" being perpetrated against a man named Perfect. Ghote starts the movie with a madcap foot chase to catch a diamond smuggler. Skarsgaard's arrival at the airport results in another slapstick foot chase. When the exact same thing happens a third time at the movie studio, the movie reaches its lowest point.

By the time the crime is being resolved, we realize that the real subject of The Perfect Murder is all of the little character bits, especially a satirical visit to the minister's office. While steadfastly refusing to cooperate with Ghote, the bureaucrat lies about a piece of jewelry being missing. He browbeats the policeman about it as a way of steering the issue away from the Perfect crime.

The best scene in the film has Ghote boast about his "most perfect Indian wife" - so obliging, so servile - only to have her nag and pester him when he returns home. When Skarsgaard shows up as a guest, the wife (Ratna Pathak) reverses her behavior and pretends that Ghote is her lord and master for appearances' sake. It's all very cute, but as with much of the humor in The Perfect Murder, we're never sure we're fully understanding the joke.

Home Vision's DVD of The Perfect Murder is yet another "perfect" transfer of a title from the Merchant Ivory collection of films, with the bright colors of Bombay making a maximum impact. The eclectic mix of music also comes across well. There are no extras.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, The Perfect Murder rates:
Movie: Good
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: none
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: February 27, 2005

Republished by permission of Turner Classic Movies.

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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