Detective Byomkesh Bakshy!—The Review

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[Spoiler-Free]

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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18 thoughts on “Detective Byomkesh Bakshy!—The Review

  1. While I agree that its quite a punk version of the original, I did not quite go into the theatre expecting anything original. While even his partner was named Ajit, he is nothing compared to the original one. Purely as cinema entertainment, I think the movie delivers. The soundtracks are great, there are healthy doses of sexual under-currents, and the sets are good. The story, of course, is very “cinema-ish” but thats cool.

  2. Typo alert – “…right before its *descent* into the madness”

    That said…I mostly agree with your movie reviews so I’m a little disappointed because I was really looking forward to Byomkesh Bakshi. I loved Dibakar’s Khosla ka Ghosla and Oye Lucky Lucky Oye

  3. * RAJIT Kapoor.

    Halfway through the second half, I thought how is Dibakar going to make so many open ends meet? And yes, the ending was messy and I was not impressed. It was aimed at creating a supervillain (for a sequel?) rather than solving the myriad number of mysteries.

    (Begin spoiler) I was also super annoyed that the name “Prafulla Ray” turned out to be a red herring for me. (End spoiler)

  4. I think the entire funda with YG was to create a Moriarty-like Arch-Nemesis for Byomkesh. I was particularly fond of how the entire film completely re-invented the meaning of what Byomkesh is or “should be” – as we all know today. Sure the film was flawed at parts, but a smart, confident, daring albeit sometimes “nat-khat” first installment (I’m hoping there will be sequels) just like how Byomkesh is in the movie.

  5. Actually the concept of those detectives are gone now. We don’t see now a days detectives solving a murder mystery where the culprit would be a normal common man like us. This movie also turns away from that concept.

    Apart from that aspect the movie was good. Dibakar has been doing Inidian adaptation of foreign movies/ stories like Sanghai.
    To me this Bakshy was an adaptation of Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock and Bangla Novel combined.

    While saying that the concept of those detectives are gone now, I would have been terribly excited if the story line had reflected that. Anyway in real life also most of the murders go unsolved.

  6. I saw the movie. I was a fan of the TV series of Rajit Kapur & have read the book (English translation)
    There are somethings I really found disappointing.
    1. Sushant Singh never appears as Byomkesh, who is characterized by deep sanity & light humour. He never seems to get under the skin of the character, also seems out of place in the periodic drama. He is unable to carry himself well in the dhoti.
    2. Byomkesh’s quest for truth seems missing. It seems like he is solving a puzzle which is there in “Champak” (magazine for kids). Sort of there is a reference manual and all he has to do is refer that to solve his task.

    Few things I liked about the movie.
    Although that been said and the end loosely stitched, I would prefer it over another 30 min of drama.
    1. The villain’s role is played to perfection
    2. Art director has done a great job. The “Pan box” shown in the movie, almost same as the one we have in our native village. The water tank, the doors, windows etc are exactly as ones we have in our home at my native village. Goes on to show how much efforts the art director has taken.

  7. Sorry struggling to understand if this is a film review or an expression of disappointment about a different take on Bomkesh….several aspects of the movie have not been talked about…not sure why..we knew this was not exactly the Bomkesh of the books the trailers hinted that…didnt it? So not sure why we are expressing disappointment about that after watching the movie

  8. What a wonderful blog on the movie!

    Loved the ‘Tintin and Blue Lotus’ comparison regarding the visuals.
    Also loved how you described the setting of film – During the last days of the great Kolkata, still cosmopolitan, just before the ending of the great Bengal Renaissance – which itself was such a great outburst of scientific, spiritual and literary creations from great souls of Bengal. My guru is the great Paramahansa Yoganandaji and i have deep respect and admiration for the great souls of that time. Ah! what a time it was!

    Coming back to the movie, apparently this movie was based on the 3 stories –
    Satyanweshi, Pother Kanta and Arthamanartham by Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay.
    I have not read the books, so can someone enlighten me, bout how the stories from 3 books got crammed into 1 movie?

    Also what were the reasons for the decline of the great Bengal Renaissance?q

    • Sad to say this but Calcutta never recovered after the British started packing their portmanteaux (it can take an elephant hours to die after getting shot; surely a city, nation or civilization can take decades), and eventually it turned into Kolkata. That’s why Denali vs. McKinley is such a sure sign of the end of the road.

  9. Just finished watching BB and this one is just perfect description of it :
    “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.”

  10. Why not say goodbye and move on? Kolkata and its expats live too much in the past, resulting in not enough age-appropriate (pun intended) material being created.

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