By Amrita Roy:
“Sach ka rang dekha hai? Laal.”
Like a huge percentage of the TV show watching population, I am addicted to Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss’s ‘Sherlock‘. It is fast, riveting, amusing and has you on the edge of your seat every time Benedict Cumberbatch pursues a clue down the nooks and crannies of London. You will be disappointed if you go to watch Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! with the same expectations.
“Sach ke aas paas waala jhooth pakadna mushkil hota hai.”
Be it Bollywood or Hollywood, Byomkesh is not your typical filmy sleuth. He doesn’t ride an expensive car but rather walks all across the 1940s Calcutta in his dhoti. He oils and side parts his hair without fail every morning. He isn’t a know-it-all who solves a case hours before letting others know. Neither does he have a string of connections splattered across the city, nor does the police have his back. Each character is critical to the story, and not just Byomkesh and his companion Ajit. He is much more complete than any other detective character: he fails and triumphs, he falls in love and marries, and if you’ve read the stories written by Sharadindu Bandyopadhay you’d know that he also has a son and establishes a publishing house. In my first watch of the film, I could only spot two similarities with Sherlock; Byomkesh too is just as obnoxious in dealing with humans and he too meets his archenemy without realizing it.
Byomkesh is a dynamic character; he develops beautifully as the film progresses. There is no other detective who has as much of a back story as Byomkesh. Banerjee indulges into Byomkesh’s past to highlight the insecurities of a bright university Math graduate in 1943 Calcutta who sees no future besides becoming a teacher or a clerk to ensure a regular cash flow and then settling down. In all detective stories, the audience enters knowing that the sleuth is light years ahead of them. In this film, we feel like Byomkesh is one of us. With veiled half-truths and constant deception, each character is a possible suspect in the murder of Ajit’s chemist dad. He is on a huge journey as his first case ever escalates from finding a dead man’s body to saving Calcutta itself.
“Bangali samajhna bhul gaye hai kya?”
Dibakar Banerjee is a director of immense caliber and doesn’t need to rely on linguistic artifice to establish the “Bengali-ness” of a film, as is commonplace in Bollywood. The entire film is shot in proper Hindi which acts as the filter between reality and storytelling. As Dibakar Banerjee himself put it in an interview, “In Gladiator, a Latin Gladiator spoke in English.” Banerjee also doesn’t overly rely on the period of the film to achieve his purpose. Yes, it is set in 1943. And that’s just about it. All the characters are just as human as we are. All the characters are just as relatable as characters from any movie set in contemporary times.
Having grown up in a true blue Bong household, my childhood consisted of a heavy dosage of Rabindranath Tagore’s poetry and Satyajit Ray’s films. Banerjee borrows from their artistic styles to leave the ultimate Bengali fingerprint on this film. The film simmers as the characters and the setting develop in conjunction, feeding off and complementing each other at all crucial plot points. It isn’t fast paced as most thrillers are. Not every dialogue is meant to be a one line scene stealer.
Each scene has been painstakingly put together with every detail polished to perfection, creating the feel of an international thriller. Every shot bears motifs of crime and danger. All the actors play their roles with utmost finesse. Sushant Singh Rajput’s nonchalant grace makes Byomkesh all the more endearing. The eclectic music enhances the film and the background score is sensuously haunting. The air raid sirens, the resurrection of Yang Guang, the trams, the billboards, the College Street Coffee House and the deliciously dark plot will transport you into the pre-Independence world of the Bengali detective.
Dibakar Banerjee has provided India with one of the best fiction films in recent years. As he rightly put, it is time for India to go crazy about an Indian detective who can take on the likes of Holmes and Poirot. Comic Con India in the coming year should be thronged by fans proud to don the dhoti-panjabi Byomkesh Bakshy look. I would compare the movie to vintage red wine but the authentic Indianness of Byomkesh begs a more Indian comparison. This film is like the perfectly slow cooked Hyderabadi chicken biryani. It takes its own time to conjure a rich and lingering taste. Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! will stay with you long after you leave the cinema.
Also read: Dibakar Banerjee’s interview with Youth Ki Awaaz on the making of this film!