When a colonial era British Deputy Commissioner of 1940s Calcutta asks, “Private detective…eh?” the reply from Dibakar Banerjee’s Byomkesh Bakshy at first is a mumbled “No.”
But in the very next moment the Bengali sleuth, originally created by Saradindu Bandopadhay, shrugs off his inhibitions and tells officer Wilkie that he is indeed one and has been hired by the “corpse’s son!”
Bakshy, played by Sushant Singh Rajput, is fresh out of college and finds himself at his wits’ end as he is trying to solve the first case of his career that sees him pitted against an evil genius. We can understand why he is a little unsure of himself.
Dibakar the auteur chose to reinvent the iconic character in his 2015 film Detective Byomkesh Bakshy, moulded in the genre of noir with contemporary ethos. The shadowy figures and the looming threat of a Japanese attack on Calcutta even as Sushant Singh Rajput stumbles upon one dead body after another, juxtaposed with high energy indie music lends the plot, which revolves around a missing person – a whole new dimension.
In other words, the world in which Dibakar’s Bakshy lives has all the ingredients for it to be adapted into a series, which can cater to a global audience.
The character first appeared in the year 1932 in a short story titled Satyanweshi. Since then, Saradindu Bandopadhay wrote as many as 32 stories and novels featuring the satyanweshi, or the ‘seeker of the truth’ as the lead. The writer had not shied away from portraying violence and lust in good measure, something which made Byomkesh Bakshi (as it was originally spelled) a popular literary work among the Bengali reading folk.
Over the years it has remained a favourite subject for Bengali filmmakers too. Even the great Satyajit Ray had made one Byomkesh film, Chiriyakhana in 1967.
In 1993, Basu Chatterjee adapted Byomkesh Bakshi for a television serial that was telecast on Doordarshan. It was in all likelihood for the first time that a much larger national audience was introduced to the character. It got widely appreciated and Rajit Kapoor, who played the Bengali bhadralok (gentleman) was loved by one and all for his nuanced portrayal of the lead in the serial.
However, a lot has been written about the humble production design of the serial in those days. Cut to the present age when OTT platforms are beginning to take over the space. A series with the kind of production values incorporated in the film Detective Byomkesh Bakshy backed by a banner no less than Yashraj Films can create a new fan base for Byomkesh, especially among millennials. It could very well be India’s answer to the hugely popular modern day adaption of his English counterpart Sherlock Holmes played by Benedict Cumberbatch for the BBC.
Once the audience get immersed in the smoke filled atmosphere of the film they realise that Dibakar’s portrayal of Calcutta – torn apart by the Second World War – itself has a mystical aura of its own. Every minute detail has been taken care of while recreating the City of Joy set in 1943. The director in a sense has stylised history in every frame, be it China Town, a tram ride which serves as a window into the times gone by, or the boarding house.
Things can only get grander in the context of a series and it will provide a wider scope to play with the characters and plots because of the format of storytelling in a series.
In the film, Dibakar has chosen to exercise his creative freedom to concoct a plot by going back and forth between some of the original stories, only this time the stakes are much higher and Bakshy is still coming to terms with his trade. He throws up at the sight of death and can be easily manipulated by a femme fatale like Angoori Devi, played by Swastika Mukherjee.
But Bakshy must get his act together when he realises that it was the homeopathic doctor Anirban Guha aka Yuang Guang someone whom he trusted blindly, who turns out to be the one who used Bakshy as a pawn in a sinister ploy. Guang’s plan is to take over the opium trade in Calcutta by planning a Japanese attack on his beloved city.
A series will further help in shaping the arc of characters like Ajit, who is a little different than usual in Dibakar’s imagination. Anand Tiwari, who plays the friend of Byomkesh is shown as a muscular guy who gives the sleuth his first case to solve when Ajit’s chemist father mysteriously disappears, in a departure from the original story. In fact it is Ajit who narrates the story in the film.
The rapport which Byomkesh shares with Deputy Commissioner Wilkie in the film too, can be explored further. His love interest Satyawati, who actually gets married to the detective in the original story could find a voice of her own.
However, the one thing which is missing in the film is that it is a little demystifying for a whodunit. The audience is never really left pulling its hair thinking who is the culprit or for that matter where the story is heading. Perhaps, it can be argued that such a treatment actually helped in establishing the premise and reinventing the principal character.
Yet, Dibakar’s vision and finesse as a master filmmaker promises to take it to greater heights from where he left things in the film; Detective Byomkesh Bakshy finally takes things into his own hands and with a little help from a well-wisher in Mr Wilkie foils the devious plan of Yuang Guang and saves Calcutta from a disaster. But the evil is not finished yet. Stung by Bakshy, Yuang Guang has turned into a one-eyed monster of diabolical proportions that will stop at nothing to seek revenge.