Journals of a Wily School

Follow a young pickpocket through the streets of Kolkata, where he plies his trade and plays a real-life game of cops and robbers...

Journals of a wily school 01
Independent Lens, Global Voices
Premiere Date
October 27, 2009
60 minutes
Funding Initiative

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The Film

On the hot and crowded streets of Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), three thousand pickpockets ply their trade every day, three hundred of them circulating through police custody at any given time. Journals of a Wily School takes viewers inside the world of these petty thieves, and the detectives who doggedly pursue them, day in and day out.

With unprecedented access, first-time director Sudeshna Bose follows a young and talented pickpocket named Azad Jalaluddin. While his sisters go to school, Azad spends his days picking pockets, using drugs, and binging on Bollywood films. His mystified father voices frustration over the wayward son who fancies himself a don and compares himself to the stars of the big screen.

To hone his craft, Azad attends an unusual school where a master pickpocket leads his attentive disciples through a series of challenges. In one, they must reach their hands into a bucket of water and retrieve a coin without creating ripples. In another, the students must carefully use a razor blade to slit a cloth wrapped around a melon, without cutting the melon’s skin.

Inevitably, Azad lands himself in jail. Police detective Bidhan Saha, a hard-nosed cop with a fatherly bent, takes Azad under his wing, offering him a pardon and a salary if he will turn in his fellow thieves. The detective is convinced of Azad’s promise to do so and works diligently to build rapport, visiting his home and even taking him on a beach vacation. Given a second chance, and the hope for redemption, what choice will Azad make? Collaboration or incarceration? Loyalty or self-interest? Respectability or the lure of the city streets?