Once you have seen Rajit Kapur play Byomkesh Bakshi on Doordarshan its difficult to get him out of the head.I remember the restless wait for the show to come on air, those were not the days of binge watching tele on Netflix and I suspect folks who want more of the same from this film will be sorely disappointed.But make the effort to distance yourself from that memory and you have a brand new kind of Bollywood entertainer that completely holds your attention for all of its 148 minutes of runtime.
This film make me think of Hollywood classics like The Big Sleep and The Maltese Falcon in the most positive way.So immersive is the film that you begin to forget about the plot, freed from meaningless need to know who committed which crime and is linked to whom in what way, and watch with its fascinating characters light up the silver screen.
The plot of Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! is perhaps the least important element of the film, it starts with a consignment of opium landing on the shores if the Hoogly and the local Chinese gang which is handling it getting butchered by a mysterious gangster long presumed dead.We know Byomkesh will soon get involved in this affair and even before we meet him we worry for our man.After all how can a dhoti clad Bengali bhadralok perpetually in danger of catching a chill despite a multicolour muffler fight these hardened criminals? On Doordarshan his turf was more Miss Marple than James Bond. The plot thickens at a slightly uneven pace but Dibakar Banerjee brings it to a boil with a lot of panache.
Sushant Singh Rajput as Byomkesh Bakshi is no Humphrey Bogart, but still has enough charisma to make the film work.When I noticed the name of Swastika Mukherjee the Bengali actress in the opening credits I felt a stab of foreboding, she is not exactly my favourite actress but she pulls off being the slightly atypical gangsters moll with ease.But the best casting must surely be Neeraj Kabi as the mysterious Dr Guha.Here is an actor on the path to greater glory and keeps this film going with his formidable screen presence.And yes the extras, those young men with oiled side partings in their hair, and dark skin burnished in the sun with the help of virgin mustard oil, where did the casting agents find them?
This is a very ambitious film and it partly worked for me because Calcutta is a very important character in the film.The portrait we get of the city is not entirely accurate historically.In 1942 the streets of Calcutta were lined with dead bodies of people who had perished in the Great Bengal famine.Poor families would come to the city in search of a few grains of rice and die a terrible death on the pavements.But this film is far from realistic, its a yarn woven by a expert storyteller to keep us chained to our seats for two and half hours and entertain us with a great escapade.
I attended a presentation by Dibakar Banerjee, his brilliant Production Designer Vandana Kataria and his cinematographer Nikos Andritsakis in November last year at an industry forum.Mr Banerjee and his team outlined in great detail the challenges they faced in recreating the Calcutta of 1942 and I was a bit concerned that the film may be too preoccupied with how it looks rather than feels.I should not have been worried in the first place since Dibakar Banerjee is one of the finest and most original voices working in the Bombay film industry today.
I write this review a good one week after its release because A) I saw it only yesterday and B) I want the readers of mostlycinema.com to give this film a chance.See the film and decide for yourself. I thoroughly enjoyed the film despite losing track of the plot because too many memories of eating in Chinatown overwhelmed me as did the memory of my bhojpuri speaking Chinese friend from collage.This is not a lazy piece of filmmaking, its a gigantic labour of love and it is all visible on the big screen. Dibakar Banerjee wants to turn Byomkesh into a franchise, if yes I don’t mind buying a season ticket right away.
#Did I use the world Kolkata or noir even once in the review?No, I did not.
#People are asking Arvind Kejriwal for their stuff back, maybe Byomkesh can ask for his muffler back.