Director: Dibakar Banerjee
Watching Detective Byomkesh Bakshy on the big screen was an exhilarating experience.
I have had mixed feelings about Dibakar Banerjee’s films. I found his Khosla Ka Ghosla utterly charming. Missed Oye Lucky Oye. Found Love, Sex and Dhoka, very smart but with something missing and therefore not quite memorable. Shanghai was again very well made, but there was something clinical and underwhelming about it. So I did not quite know how DBB was going to turn out.
But I was hooked from Frame 1. Actually I entered the show a few minutes late, and when I took my seat, Byomkesh was trying to lie his way through to get a room in the hostel run by Dr Atanu Guha. The energy of the film got to me right away. Kolkata has never been presented in this kinetic avatar before. Trams zigzagging across streets, opium junkies, Chinese gangs, Japanese dentists, Burmese seductresses …ah it’s the queen of the east indeed. Add to it a dhoti-clad Bengali detective born and brought up in Munger and you have all the ingredients of a crackling fare. And Banerjee keeps spraying fresh droplets of oil to keep the pan sizzling whenever the heat simmers down a little. It’s slow-cooked fare, but not lacking in spice or sizzle, not at any part of its 135minutes running time.
What I love about the film is the way Banerjee lets us on in the very beginning that he is here to tell us a good story. Could there ever be an actress like Angooribala in Kolkata, was there ever a hostel in the Kolkata of 40’s where Japanese and Bengalis stay together … or has Kolkata ever had a dhoti clad private dick ready to take on Chinese gangs? This is not that kind of a film…one that researches to find out some arcane facts and then goes about recreating realities. It’s about telling a tall tale….in the tradition of all those cock-and-bull stories that all the Bengali writs from Premendra Mitra ( Ghana-da)to Satyajit Ray ( Felu-da) have been spinning, with their imagination and craft of story-telling being their most dependable tool rather than any real knowledge of the world of crime and international intrigues. And this is as tall as tales come…with a mix of opium cartels, gang wars, the fatal attraction between a Burmese seductress and a Bengali criminal mastermind, pre-independence Bengal politics, exciting scientific discovery and the power tussle between the British and the Japanese. Whoaw! Delicious.
I like the expressionistic mode in which Banerjee tells his tale. The moody cinematography of Nikos Andritsakis ( I am trying hard to memorize this name) with rich colours and haunting interplay of light and shadow, the playful and pulsating music of Sneha Khanwalkar and the entire production design makes sure that you can’t take your eyes ( an your ears) off from the screen for a second. I cannot get the pumping rhythm of Khanwalkar’s soundtrack out of my mind, neither the wicked ‘ I don’t know what time it is , I don’t care what time it is, it’s the time for Calcutta Kiss” , nor the tantalizingly short phrases of Malkauns, and Baul song, and thumri ( More Piya mose na bole and Jao jao) that waft in between from time to time. I like the grunge look of the Gajanan Sikdar’s chemical factory and Dr Atanu Guha’s hostel. I like the carefully calibrated balance that Banerjee maintains between a pan-Indian look and feel and some hard-core Bangaliana ( take the inmates of the hostel, including the tea-boy ( Puti?). I like the droll humour ( sample: “Blood! Okay, forget the blood, just get the tea.’ Or the exchange in Bhojpuri between Byomkesh and the two security guards of the factory.) And I like the robust plot.
The performances are first rate. I liked to tongue-in-cheek faux-femme-fatale act of Swastika and the over-the-top clever villainy of Neeraj Kabi. And I think Sushant Singh Rajput may have pulled off an impossible cat here – create a genuine character franchise for the big screen. He makes Byomkesh very human…not super-intelligent, just above-average , with just awe bit of swagger, knowing and acknowledging when he has been beaten, and learning from his mistakes to evolve and move on.
It’s a character arch that will be interesting to observe over upcoming sequels ( I hope.)