Monday, 6 April 2015

Of Truth, Calcutta and the Heady drag My Review Detective Byomkesh Bakshy!

Director  Dibakar Banerjee

Starring   Sushant Singh Rajput, Neeraj Kabi, Anand Tiwari, Swastika Mukherjee, Divya Menon,                       Meiyang Chang

*May contain spoilers

Detective Bomkesh Bakshi, a character that has endured for more than 8 decades… Oh and he hated being called a “detective”. So let’s call him the way he likes it, Satyanweshi, the seeker of truth.
Many adaptations have been made and savoured of  Saradindu Bandyopadhyay’s  famous Satyanweshi.  The closest to the mass memory is the one played  famously by Rajit Kapur on Doordarshan. 

Dibakar Banerjee’s Byomkesh Bakshy! (yes, the Ys used twice itself indicate that this is the director’s take on the literary detective ) is set in the early 1940s, a World War II strafed Calcutta, where nothing is what it seems. The turf war between the Chinese drug gangs, the Japanese Army and the British has laid Calcutta wide open.  Danger, deceit and mayhem… this is the world a young Bakshy enters unknowingly.  Approached one day in the college by Ajit Banerjee,  asking for Byomkesh’s help in finding his father Bhuvan Banerjee, a chemical scientist, who has disappeared without a trace two months ago.  A case that seems so simple to Byomkesh that he says in the very first instance that Ajit’s father is dead, his body hidden somewhere! What he doesn’t know that he is going to get embroiled in a mystery so warped, it will be tough to get out alive.

But seek the truth he must, so he finds lodging in a Men’s Only guest house , run by Dr. Anukul Guha, who treats patients for free.  From here the search begins, that leads him through twists and turns, to mysterious yet alluring creatures like the Mata Hariesque Anguri Devi, the strong willed Satyawati and Deputy Commissioner Wilkie, committed to busting the drug scene in Calcutta.

As my current favourite police Detective on TV Blackstrom would say, I am Dibakar, I want to make a larger than life film on the favourite literary detective, what would I do to make it big, make it different, make it real, yet do it in my own unique style, give it the noir hues, create a world that is real in detailing yet magnificently cinematic at the same time.

Well, he manages to do all that and more.  From the first adrenaline pumped scene to the last frame, each scene has been treated like a stand-alone tableau.  The Calcutta that has been painstakingly re-created seems so real that you feel you could step inside and board the tram to Bada Bazaar.  The camerawork is one of the main strengths of the film, by Nikos Andritsakis, who has teamed with Dibakar in LSD and Shanghai.  His camerawork makes simple movements like a pan deliver sheer beauty. He captures perfect frames, at times slow and languorous, at times manic.  Always giving something striking.  As a motif, shadows play a large role in crucial sequences.

The case itself is the first case in the published series,  titled “Satyanweshi”. This was the birth of the detective. But the character of Dibakar’s Bakshy is different from the Bomkesh we all knew in the past. He is young, impulsive, edgy. His razor sharp brain doesn’t miss much, and he while finding the truth also finds time to plant a long kiss on the femme fatale’s scarlet lips.

Now to come to the casting. It was unique and risky to say the least. Will Sushant Singh Rajput even come close to the genius and gravitas of Rajit Kapur was my question. But he doesn’t have to. Dibakar has created Byomkesh which lets Sushant breath in his own skin. The first thing to go was the requirement of a Bengali accent. Dibakar clearly knew it was a risk worth taking.  Sushant has largely succeeded in his effort to play the legendary detective.  Neeraj kabi, again a brilliant actor plays the deceptive  Dr. Anukul with great relish, but in the last few sequences, he ends up messing up… larger than life villain yes, but the hamming came as a shock.  Swastika Mukherjee as Anguri Devi  for me didn’t work initially, but yes.. she grew on me… smoky eyes and pouty lips.  Satyawati played by Divya Menon was believable, fit in perfectly.  Anand Tiwari is brilliant as Ajit Banerjee. Really nuanced performance. Meiyang Chang plays  Kanai  well.

The music of the film is grungy new-age rock. It is used well in most places, and is another spin which propels the director’s vision of the film further.

Dibakar is one of the most gifted directors of our times. He has evolved and broadened his vision, challenged his own limits with every film… DBB is a labour of love and the man knows what he is doing. As he had said in many pre-release interviews,  his Byomkesh will be hated by Puritans, but I do hope they would be able to see beyond the obvious and enjoy the emergence of DBB as possibly a film franchise! 

The  film is not without its flaws. The simple original story has been changed and tweaked, obviously for  the requirement of a full length feature, but it gets laden with just way too many plots and red herrings. The Chinese gang, the Japanese Army, the attack on Calcutta… it becomes a bit of a mish mash at some point.  And then the climax sees a long sequence of  Byomkesh explaining each and everything. The film doesn’t end there… though visually brilliant the last few minutes of the film look like a part of some other movie,  they are so over the top. But as a pay-off it does leave with the promise of a sequel.

But the film has so much going for it, it takes you through such brilliant moments, the detailing that is god level, you let go of the minor flaws and applaud.

My Verdict  3/5

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