The devil lies in the details. Storytelling does too. Finding the culprit in a whodunnit is like peeling an onion. If not watery, eyes must gape wide with revelation. It is a magic trick. The viewer is engrossed with walking a cold trail overlooking the shorter route in front. That’s where 'Forensic'’s problem begins. While trying to overtake the audience at every turn, it doesn’t realise its tumbling downhill.
Welcome to misty Mussoorie, where finding a little girl’s body is just another downpour away. Here’s Johnny Khanna (played over-enthusiastically by Vikrant Massey), a forensic expert who likes to moonwalk into a crime scene and sing nursery rhymes (Johnny, Johnny...) to both corpses and the living alike till they die of cringe. “But he’s the best,” says a cop as a prelude to the character’s introduction.
Johnny is a wannabe Karamchand who might be better off as Inspector Jacques Clouseau from The Pink Panther. He is reporting to Radhika’s Megha Sharma, the case officer with whom he has a past. The case? Young girls are getting murdered on their birthdays in small-town Mussoorie. The past? They separated. Johnny and Megha also share a niece (his brother married her sister) and I did feel like drawing a family tree.
There is another thing of catching the flavour of the place where the crime occurs. In Bong Joon-Ho’s 'Memories of Murder' (2003), South Korea comes alive in its rice paddy fields. “This place is like somebody’s memory of a town, and the memory is fading,” ruminates Rust Cohle in HBO’s 'True Detective' (2014). Even the Malayalam original 'Forensic' (2020), starring Tovino Thomas and Mamta Mohandas, feels at home in its green landscape. The Hindi version, however, is ‘miss-placed’. It wants to ride the bandwagon of a scenic mountain thriller but that’s about it. What do we know about Mussoorie? “This is a small town,” says a police officer during an office banter. “Even if you buy an underwear here, the neighbour will get to know its colour.” That’s true for all small towns, hope not.
In the beginning, Forensic poses a lot of doors to open, but it merely knocks on them and nothing rings a bell. In a scene, Johnny deduces that the killer is not over four to five feet in height. Regular viewers of crime thrillers are always expecting the worst from humanity. The obvious conclusion is that the murderer is a child. “Can it be a dwarf?” asks a cop and I expected flabbergasted looks. What I got was CCTV footage showing a dwarf sweeper near the crime scene and a wild goose chase in a colony of dwarfs. All this for petty comic relief.
Relationships between characters are unravelled conveniently through flashbacks. The Malayalam original aces here. Its characters are defined through traits and flashbacks are sparse. The Hindi version takes the pulp and leaves the juice behind. In a particular sequence in the original, an eye-witness, while he was clandestinely removing a flag of ‘comrades’, spots the accused. A bit of detailing like this and the scene elevates with political context. In the Hindi 'Forensic', the eye-witness is a ragpicker.
Towards the end, 'Forensic' starts remembering clichés it missed. Johnny and Megha get suspended. The evidence board is set, the coloured threads are out, and the victim polaroids are pinned. A post-it note even reads “Who is the killer?” By the time the climax comes I thought, does it even matter?