Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! Movie Review

Friday, April 3, 2015
Starring: Sushant Singh Rajput, Anand Tiwari, Swastika Mukherjee, Neeraj Kabi, Divya Menon, Meiyang Chang
Directed by: Dibakar Banerjee
Produced by: Yashraj Films, Dibakar Banerjee Productions
Screenplay: Urvi Jubekar, Dibakar Banerjee
Cinematographer: Nikos Andritsakis
When I watch a whodunit, a typical detective/spy film, I usually want a nail biting suspense and an edge of the seat climax; I spend a good part of my time trying to second-guess the killer; and if I fail at doing that, I end up liking the whodunit. Dibakar Banerjee’s ‘Detective Byomkesh Bakshy!’ didn’t surprise me with its suspense. Yet I simply loved the film, every minute of it. Such is its impact that, for once, I revise my template of reviewing a detective movie.
It’s a fabulous film. It is also an acquired taste.

Let me first state what this film is not. It’s not an edge of the seat suspense thriller. It’s not about a super slick detective (case in point Benedict Cumberbatch’s ‘Sherlock’) whose superior little grey cells (like that of my favourite fiction detective Hercule Poirot) and deductive abilities can take on global conspirators and neighbourhood conmen with ease.
Dibakar Banerjee said that his Byomkesh Bakshy, with elaborate, researched background stories, evolves and flourishes in the milieu of the 1940s multi ethnic, urban melting pot that Calcutta was. It is also true to the original Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay text.
Aroma of this multi ethnic slow cooking pot permeates the entire film. It brings alive the emergence of a metropolis where plots and machinations of multiple kinds tackle the British Indian Raj, a feudal socio-political structure and colonialism. Many conspire, even as some aspire to the glitz and glam of quasi- European high life.
Epitomizing such aspirations is the mysterious movie star; and shaking up the order is a humble doctor running a typical Calcuttan boarding house. Adding to the drama is a Chinese legitimate opium dealer, a lost son looking for his chemistry genius father; and a nervous accountant. Byomkesh Bakshy, the eccentric, start-up detective, is cutting his teeth into his first case. There’s the freedom struggle, an opiated atmosphere of underground drug trade and a Fascist Japan bombing chaotic Calcutta. Byomkesh must knit it all together to crack his first case. Is he being tricked as he solves it? Or by cracking this murder, will he unwittingly open a Pandora’s Box with history altering consequences?
Answering that will give away the plot. But then the charm is not in the plot’s resolution. For those who have read the Sharadindu books, the charm might not exist in its resolution at all.
The magic of this film is in its journey. This is textbook cinema of journey. Byomkesh’s clumsy but enthusiastic first steps to becoming a detective engage you completely. It’s the near perfection in meticulous detailing and recreation of the yesteryears Paris of the East (Before it was nicknamed City of Joy, Kolkata was also called that) that sets this film apart. A couple of sequences, like the one where Byomkesh and Ajit walk down the Forties Calcutta streets even as the camera tracks them mischievously deserve gush.
A flaw that stayed with me is that actors of different ethnic origins, including Chinese, speak in Hindi. That didn’t work. The climax is somewhat predictable. And the villain delivers a mediocre performance in the film’s crucial moments.
Having said that, Sushant Singh Rajput impresses with an unpretentious performance. Could a Bengali actor have played Byomkesh better? That’s a tough one to answer, but not a fair assumption. Every other character in the film-Anand Tiwari, Divya Menon, Swastika Mukherjee, Meiyang Chang and Pradipto Kumar Chakroborty - delivers with elan. Once again, Dibakar’s ability to extract the best from his actors is validated. His crew is outstanding; cinematography to art to background score, the film’s technical finesse more than justifies the time and effort spent on it.
Last word for its makers; Dibakar Banerjee has spent nearly two years making this film with his crew. Yash Raj Films presents it and has collaborated on this film to give it a bigger platform. Commercial interests couldn’t have been priority here; art definitely was. In its treatment, music and narration, ‘Detective Byomkesh Bakshy!’ has set a new standard. Kudos to that.
Watch this film for an authentic original experience; look for suspense, but also look a slice of the Forties urban India. Watch it if you want to applaud original Indian writing. Of course, watch it, if you like me, simply love detective flicks.
The Final Verdict
Ticket Value Price: 85 Per cent.

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