A richly textured detective story with a multilayered narrative
By Murtaza Ali
Featured in IMDb Critic Reviews
|Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! (2015) - By Dibakar Banerjee|
Our Ratings: 8.0
IMDb Ratings: 8.4
IMDb Ratings: 8.4
Genre: Mystery | Thriller
Cast: Sushant Singh Rajput, Neeraj Kabi, Swastika Mukherjee
Language: Hindi | Mandarin | Japanese
Runtime: 148 min
Summary: In a contemporary interpretation of war torn Calcutta during the 1940's, the film follows the first adventure of Byomkesh, fresh out of college, as he pits himself against an evil genius who is out to destroy the world. It's his wits against the most villainous arch criminal the world has seen, in a world of murder, international political intrigue and seduction.
Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! is a 2015 suspense thriller film directed by the Indian filmmaker Dibakar Banerjee whose previous assignments include Khosla Ka Ghosla (2006), Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! (2008), LSD: Love, Sex Aur Dhokha (2010), and Shanghai (2012). Co-produced by Aditya Chopra and Banerjee himself, the movie is based on the popular sleuth character (named Byomkesh Bakshi... however, in the movie’s title, Bakshi is spelt as Bakshy) created by the Bengali writer Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay. "Detective Byomkesh Bakshy!" stars Sushant Singh Rajput, Neeraj Kabi, Anand Tiwari, Swastika Mukherjee, Meiyang Chang, and Divya Menon in major roles. The movie is set in 1942-43 Calcutta (now Kolkata) with the carefully chosen World War II backdrop in an attempt to resonate the ever bustling tempo of the city of joy with the chaos and hysteria of war. But, did the attempt succeed? Well, we will certainly try to find an answer to this and many other pertinent questions during the course of this article. But, before we do that, let’s first focus on the various aspects of filmmaking.
The title “Detective Byomkesh Bakshy!” in itself gives a lot away without leaving much to the imagination—irrespective of whether one is already acquainted with Byomkesh Bakshi or not. There’s no denying that Byomkesh Bakshi is a cult figure but it’s nowhere as famous as say a Sherlock Holmes or a James Bond. Hence the smartly chosen title “Detective Byomkesh Bakshy!” and not just “Byomkesh Bakshy!” or “Byomkesh!”! The problem with nondescript titles based on relatively lesser known fictional characters is that they defy reasonable marketing strategies to attract the mass audiences. But why change Bakshi to Bakshy? And why use an exclamation mark with the name? Well, according to Dibakar Banerjee, these playful little adjustments have been made to make it more adventurous than generic. Clearly, Banerjee doesn’t merely seem interested in adapting the stories of Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay. He has his eyes set on a bigger and a more challenging goal: to transform pulp into cinema while adding his own creative touches in the process and simultaneously ensuring that the spirit of the source material remains intact.
"Detective Byomkesh Bakshy!" is targeted towards a new audience and is bound to disappoint the purists (they can still find solace in the 1993 Television series telecasted on Doordarshan). However, Byomkesh Bakshi enthusiasts can still enjoy the film if they choose to approach it with an open mind. Come to think of it, it is actually not much different than Christopher Nolan’s rejig of the Batman saga that marked a departure from the comic book depiction of the caped crusader. Like Nolan, Banerjee too seems to have a penchant for making dark films like “Shanghai” and “Detective Byomkesh Bakshy!”. Banerjee explains it passionately: “The darker, the more intangible you go the more fun it is. It is slightly dark, slightly out of focus.” Made in the tradition of Hollywood whodunits, “Detective Byomkesh Bakshy!” is a richly textured detective story with a multilayered narrative. And while Dibakar may refuse to acknowledge it, the film noir influence just cannot be overlooked and is not limited to the presence of femme fatales and private eyes.
It’s never a cinch to recreate a certain epoch in history and the fact that Banerjee and team meticulously reconstructed the 1940s Calcutta (the makers paid for the renovation of a couple of antiquated wooden tramcars, No. 563 and No. 567, which were used as part of the city recreation... they have now been renamed as 'Byomkesh Bakshi' Tramcars, and, thanks to the revived interest of people in trams, a prototype is on display at a tram museum-on-wheels called Smaranika... various Bengali filmmakers including the great Satyajit Ray have been known to use trams in their films to capture the enchanting beauty of Calcutta) not only speak volumes about their commitment but actually help orchestrate an enchanting mise-en-scène that adds great detail to a sprawling period piece like “Detective Byomkesh Bakshy!” Add to this a thick plot, actors who can act with conviction, some brilliantly crafted dialogue, thrash metal music, Leone’s signature camera movements (specifically the rotating camera shots and close-ups), Welles’ characteristic use of shadows and silhouettes, (it’s difficult to not to think of films like Touch of Evil and The Third Man while watching "Detective Byomkesh Bakshy!"), and shades of Tarantino-esque violence (the gory finale sequence certainly harks back to Kill Bill: Vol. 1). Voila! We have crafted a palpable atmosphere that will hold the viewer in a vice-like grip until the end credits begin to roll.
Banerjee’s film is not original by any stretch of imagination, for he has borrowed ideas from various other filmmakers. But, there is no shame in borrowing ideas as long as one can concoct them into something unique. To his credit, Banerjee achieves something similar with “Detective Byomkesh Bakshy!” Although, Banerjee’s Shanghai, in comparison, is a better work of cinema, it’s a cheap imitation of Costa-Gavras’ masterpiece Z (1969), which makes “Detective Byomkesh Bakshy!” a greater achievement in the opinion of this critic. One of the greatest merits of the film is that it brilliantly serves the purpose of a suspense thriller. Some viewers may complain that the film is a bit predictable at times but the truth is that it keeps the viewer guessing throughout—the whole truth and the real motives of the various characters aren’t revealed until the very end. There is a subtle difference between suspense and mystery and “Detective Byomkesh Bakshy!” for the most part falls in the former category (yes, there is mystery but the suspense element is stronger). The master of suspense Alfred Hitchcock defines mystery as an intellectual process while suspense as an emotional process. In order to get the suspense element going it is essential to provide information to the audience. Mystery, on the other hand, is created by withholding information from the audience. So, there's no denying that Banerjee and team do succeed in their endeavor!
Overall, “Detective Byomkesh Bakshy!” can best be described as a marriage of commercial and experimental filmmaking. It is entertainment galore but not at the expense of creative freedom. In the context of contemporary Hindi cinema, “Detective Byomkesh Bakshy!” is nothing short of a monumental achievement. And those who think that Hindi cinema is not good enough to make great suspense thrillers anymore (Of course, the great Vijay Anand was the pioneer of the genre in Hindi cinema) certainly need to watch this film. Dibakar Banerjee needs to be congratulated for eliciting worthy performances from his entire cast of actors. Sushant Singh Rajput seems to have finally got the big break that he has been waiting for. Again his portrayal of Bandyopadhyay’s sleuth may not satisfy the purists but nonetheless he manages to make his mark with a brilliantly nuanced performance. Amidst a series of memorable performances, it’s Neeraj Kabi’s portrayal of Dr. Guha that stands first among equals. Another performance that deserves a special mention is that Swastika Mukherjee as Anguri Devi. The movie has some pacing issues and it occasionally tries to purposefully misdirect the viewer but despite the flaws it proves to be quite an enthralling experience. While the movie is bound to disappoint the hardcore Byomkesh Bakshi enthusiasts, it has all the elements to satisfy the masses and the classes alike. If the movie does well at the box office (and it most certainly will), a sequel may be just around the corner . Highly recommended!
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