There was a time when detectives were…I don’t know..detectives. There would be a crime, a murder or perhaps a few, there would be suspects, and there would be a resolution. Now with Moffatt and Ritchie’s reinventions of Holmes, detectives can no longer just recover a missing will or bust through a carefully constructed alibi or solve a particularly intractable conundrum. Now they have to tango with maniacal super-villains with evil designs to alter the course of history just to keep their detective certification active.
It indeed is a tough world.
When I heard that Byomkesh Bakshi was being “rebooted” by Dibakar Banerjee, I was excited. The cinematic adaptations of Byomkesh had, almost all of them, been extremely tepid, and that includes Satyajit Ray’s “Chiriakhana” which, despite the genius of its maker, could only scratch the surface of the darkness of the original source-material, and Rituparno’s last film “Satyaneshi”, which looked like it was not totally the finished material when it was released, thus setting the bar of expectations for a Byomkesh movie extremely low.
The initial signs for Dibakar Banerjee’s “reboot” were encouraging. The trailers, with its “Tintin and the Blue Lotus” visual palette, its rather odd choice of casting the most un-Bangali-looking Sushant Singh Rajput as the titular character, and the rather period-incongruous music, suggested strongly that this would be a daring re-imagination and I was happy that it would be. I had had enough of over-literal Byomkesh adaptations, cause, dude, I had read the books.
So I drove down to Arundell Mills, all expectant, for the morning 11:25 am show.
Two and a half hours later, I left the theater disappointed.
Whatever it was that I just saw, it was not a Byomkesh Bakshi. Maybe the Yahoo-like “y!” instead of the “i” was the clue that I had missed.
I will repeat here what I said a few paragraphs back. I was not expecting canon, I was not expecting familiarity. I was prepared to look beyond Byomkesh’s eating “aloo bhaja” with tea (that’s like James Bond having mango lassi with caviar), his shameful carrom-playing (was carrom even a staple in early 40s in the union rooms of Bangali colleges?), and the fact that the great Bengali detective looks as authentically Bengali as Jacques Kallis.
I also understand that Dibakar is doing an origins story, and the current fashion of an origins story, be it of Batman (the Arkham video game series) or of Professor Xavier (the X-Men) is to show our heroes as flawed in the beginning, diamond still, but uncut. Likewise Byomkesh still considers himself a detective, (which is why the word “detective” is in the title) and not a “satyaneshi” (the seeker of truth), being more Tintin and Batman (remember Batman too is a detective) than Byomkesh, callow, over-confident, with a propensity for moving first and thinking later.
My disappointment is with the story and the characters. What makes Byomkesh stories so entertaining is its cast of suspects, banal on the outside but inside, twisted and gnarled. Saradindu, the author, had touched on extremely bold topics for the day and age in his Byomkesh stories, of course in a very subtle way and one expects any new Byomkesh story to be psychologically nuanced. Maybe it’s the pressure of establishing a Moriaty-like muhahaha super-villain, maybe it’s something else, but the denizens of Dibakar Banerjee’s universe are about as cardboard as they can be, too much screen time being spent in maniacal laughing and swishing Japanese swords and Swastika’s Sachin Tendulkar shoulders, than on character development or definition.
I am sorry but you cannot appropriate the Byomkesh trademark unless you have some darkness in the characters, and no the darkness I am referring to is not “poorly lit frames”.
That Byomkesh Bakshy! has plenty of.
Detective stories are difficult to do right on film. As Ray once wrote about “Chiriyakhana”, which he accepted was his weakest work, that the exposition at the end where the detective has to explain to the audience the truth and how he came to it is particularly difficult to show because the action stops till the denouement is sprung. It’s precisely there that Dibakar Banerjee’s Bakshy!’s wheels come finally off. The ending is messy, and I mean it in every sense of the word.
Maybe if it was made with Dibakar Banerjee’s own characters, with no ‘spirit’ to capture, Bakshy ! would have been better. It has its strengths, being technically top-notch, what people would call “international” with Dibakar Banerjee capturing excellently, in suitably seductive noir tones, the last days of a great Kolkata, still cosmopolitan and vibrant, just at the end of the Bengal renaissance, right before its descent into the madness of what would becomes its future.
I read somewhere that what book publishers nowadays often look for is not so much a “story” but a “world”. Dibakar Banerjee establishes the world, or at least the external trappings of it, more or less successfully, but loses the essence of a Bakshi story in the process.
Here’s hoping that the next one will capture what it is that makes a Byomkesh story unique.
Bakshi deserves no less.