What is the story about?
On his 66th birthday, retired movie star Tony Roy invites his close group of friends--teacher Sheela, physician Dr. Neema Pradhan, ex-footballer Bob Das, hotshot film director Bijoy Mukherjee, DSP Subhankar Banerjee, neighbour and crime fiction writer Ranjan Ganguly--for a party at his home in Darjeeling. Amitava Banerjee, a young journalist for a Kolkata-based newspaper, tags along with Sheela to the party. As the evening progresses, Tony suddenly dies of a heart attack in front of them. However, Amitava suspects something is not right and starts digging deeper. As his investigations yield long-buried secrets, pressure mounts on him to stay away from the case. Will Amitava succeed in publishing the story, or will he lose his life in trying to find the truth?
Just as it is impossible to take out Ruskin Bond from Mussoorie, it is impossible to think of Darjeeling without Anjan Dutt. The flavour of the hill-station hangs heavy over a major portion of his filmography, and therefore it is only fitting that his OTT debut as a filmmaker is set in the same place which is his creative muse. Murder In The Hills runs over eight episodes, but it allows us to see Dutt craft characters with deft precision. All the characters in the series have their own murky past to deal with, and also their own character tics. Most filmmakers in Bengal often lose track of the characterization in order to advance the plot, but Dutt invests each of his characters with a lot of detail, and this helps to inform their decisions.
It's a pity, therefore, that the characters are in service of a story that unfolds choppily. The mystery of who killed Tony Roy won't come as a surprise to anyone who voraciously devours detective fiction. The plot unfolds predictably, and you wish more than a couple of red herrings were strewn here and there to make things more interesting. There's not enough meat in the story to run eight episodes, and even the climax feels very convenient and drawn-out. Yet, Dutt's directorial work here is more assured than most of the non-Byomkesh Bakshi films he's made lately, and the performances from the ensemble cast allow you to stay invested in this meandering story. Here's hoping Mr. Dutt chooses a more gripping story for OTT next time.
Arjun Chakraborty brings a dogged tenacity and naive righteousness to his role of Amitava. Sourav Chakraborty is suitably pompous as Bijoy, while Anindita Bose uses her shifty gaze to great effect as the unreliable Sheela. Suprobhat Das stands out in the entire cast as the hot-headed, child-like Bob, and it is fascinating to watch how his demeanour constantly switches between childishness and rage. Sandipta Sen's Neema is unconvincing initially, but she shines in the second half of the story. Rajat Ganguly and Saswati Guha Thakurta are all right as Ranjan and Rama, Tony's wife. While Anjan Dutt himself becomes Tony Roy in the pilot episode, Joydeep Mukherjee shines in a cameo as his intimidating father in the flashback portions. The only actor in his ensemble who sticks out like a sore thumb is Rajdeep Gupta, who is saddled with the badly-written character of Subhankar.
Music & Other Departments
Neel Dutt's background score is very sparsely used here. Ramyadip Saha's camerawork lets Darjeeling become a major character in the story, with his extensive use of drone shots to capture sweeping views of the town.
The characterization and performances are the major highlights.
The predictable storyline and the drawn-out climax.
Did I enjoy it?
I found it mildly engaging only because of the performances. However, the story is not that difficult to guess if you watch a lot of detective fiction.
Do I recommend it?
You can watch it once if you have nothing better to do.