Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! is based on the popular sleuth character 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 plot details and various other filmmaking aspects.
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. By why change Bakshi to Bakshy? And why use an exclamation mark with the name? Well, according to Dibankar 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. Banerjee seems to have a penchant for making dark films like "Shanghai" and "Detective Byomkesh Bakshy!". Made in the tradition of Hollywood whodunits, "Detective Byomkesh Bakshy!" is a richly textured detective story with a multilayered narrative. And while Dibankar 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 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, Welles' characteristic use of shadows and silhouettes, and shades of Tarantino-esque violence. Voila! We have crafted a palpable atmosphere that will hold the viewer in a vice- like grip until the end credits began 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. 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). 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. 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!
(This review was first published in my film blog A Potpourri of Vestiges)