06 April, 2015

Detective Byomkesh Bakshy - A Hilsa curry that used Pomfret

The detective template & early avatars of Byomkesh

Nearly fifty years after Arthur Conan Doyle penned the most replicated detective character template in Sherlock Holmes & Watson...the Bengali writer Sharadindu Bandopadhyay created Byomkesh Bakshy and Ajit in the milieu of Calcutta. Now Byomkesh in Saradindu babus short stories never addressed himself as detective. He preferred the term “Satyanweshi” or the truth seeker instead.  The same template was picked up by Satyajit Ray a few decades later in 1965 to fashion his Feluda , Topshe & Jatayu and detective fiction flourished in India with Byomkesh & Feluda leading the pack of popularity.

Feluda’s world was cleaner, what with Ray also being a film-maker. Maybe he thought in a cinematic perspective first and then the writing emerged, fashioning itself around that vision... on the other hand Saradindu babu was a sharp penman who had no such compunctions about the environment in which his detective resided...His pre-independence Calcutta is sordid, dark and has a seedy underbelly much like Conan Doyle’s London. This is the world that Dibakar Bannerjee successfully recreates...in bold colours and with superb detailing.

The interesting coincidence is that the first time the Satyenweshi breathed on screen was under the baton of Satyajit Ray the creator of Feluda, with Uttam Kumar as Byomkesh & Shailen Mukherjee playing Ajit in “Chiriyakhana”, the year 1967. Many other movies followed till Basu Chatterjee in 1993 & 1997 across two seasons adapted each of his 32 short novellas into a TV series with Rajat Kapur as Byomkesh & K K Raina as Ajit. Outside of Bengal,  this is the most enduring image of the detective.

Detective Byomkesh Bakshy – The Movie

Detective fiction readers are known to have short attention spans. Bandopadhyay with Byomkesh, wrote only short stories or novellas. For cinema then it becomes doubly imperative that the screenplay over the 120 plus minute period holds the audience enthralled throughout.

Bannerjee, here does something very interesting. He takes three separate stories from the author’s collection and picks the primary characters from them. Then he weaves all of them seamlessly into one plot while keeping the original flavour of the stories intact. This is the best part of the movie, it's screenplay by Dibakar Bannerjee & Urmi Juvekar. 

Ajit engages a fresh out of college Byomkesh to locate his father Bhuven babu and the story takes off, taking us along with the protagonists on a joy ride that is truly mysterious...wheels spin within wheels and the knotty situations don’t unravel easily...and this is the beauty of the screenplay, it keeps the viewer totally engaged. Byomkesh finds obstacles, love and adventure in his resolution of the larger plot that emerges out of the simple missing person case.

The music by Sneha Khanvalkar is psychedelic and adds a different dimension to the spectacularly bold visuals on screen. The 1940’s Calcutta recreated is simply superb...with attention to even minor detailing like film posters on walls. The support character cast of Anand Tiwari as Ajit, Swastika Mukherjee as the sensuous siren Anguri Devi, Meiyang Chang as Kanai Dao, Aryan Bhowmick as the dispensary boy  and Neeraj Kabi as Dr Anukool Guha are first rate and rise above their characters.They are the ones that lift the plot into another zone...the newcomer Divya Menon as Satyaboti wades through and manages to hang in there bravely, doing nothing much but look pretty.

There are several quirks and physical traits of Byomkesh Bakshi as sketched by  Saradindu  babu that have fit and been picked up by the varied actors who have played him earlier in the past ...right from Uttam Kumar, Sattindra Bhattacharya, Subhrajit Dutta to Rajat Kapur...they lived the role. 

No one but a Bengali director could have directed Byomkesh was a given, because the spirit of the ethos unless authentic would certainly have destroyed the fabric in Bandopadhyay’s tapestry. Here Dibakar Bannerjee is on the ball. Has Sushant Singh Rajput done a good job? If there existed no past comparative memory then, yes he is OK...But having read Bandopadhyay and seen earlier performances, now if asked again does Sushant  make a good Byomkesh...definitely no.

Dibakar attempted to cook up an Illish Maach ( Hilsa fish) curry , the spices are correctly ground and mixed and the curry looks and smells right...but when he was to drop the piece de resistance, the fish into the curry,  Aditya Chopra handed him a “Pomfret” instead of an Ilish.  At that very moment what may have been a possibly perfect dish went for a toss.  Someone may very well ask, so what is wrong with a Pomfret? Well...nothing, except that it is not an Ilish and hence quite simply doesn't cut the mustard .

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