Byomkesh Bakshi – Gripping!

My initial delight at the news of the ressurection of the Byomkesh franchise, decades after Satyajit Ray’s Chiriakhana, was soon fraught with scepticism, for old school detective stories were by no means considered Anjan Dutt’s forte, and it remained to be seen to what effect the self-styled director, known for his comfy factor with themes like Anglo-Indian community or rock music, could revive Byomkesh!

What we got on August 13 is really promising. A gripping tale of crime and drama with suspense till the very end. Dutt has stayed true to the original story which is why most of the shots are indoors and there is hardly any edge-of-the-seat stuff! The film progresses at a slow pace as the tight script gradually unfolds. The only points where the script gets slack is whenever Anjan Dutt overdoes his preaching. Right he hasn’t spared even Byomkesh Bakshi from his antlami!

If you compare Chiriakhana with Adim Ripu, the latter has a much simpler plot. Anjan Dutt deserves credit for making a fine movie out of that. To talk about the cinematography, I am totally floored by the sheer bangaliana of the movie. With its 60s feel it is a treat to watch, a visual delight. The movie boasts some excellent old-world shots. To add to that, some great acting makes the film memorable indeed.

There are things Dutt could be mindful of. The riots and pogroms were indeed part of the original story. But in the film the shots look so unrealistic. We even see Ajit braving the riot in an open street with the detachment of an ascetic! The movie is rife with minor goof-ups. The entire money is never burnt. Nanibala Debi manages to change to a new saree in the ending roof sequence! The names of the suspects are pinned by Byomkesh openly in his drawing room visited by outsiders, much to the dismay of an observant viewer!

A year ago when Rituparno Ghosh was toying with the idea of making a Byomkesh movie, guess who did he have in mind for the role? No prizes for guessing! Prasenjit! Give me a break! Credit goes to Anjan Dutt for roping in a relatively new face! As we all have our preconceived notions regarding our favourite characters from books, impressing the reader is no piece of cake but newcomer Abir Chatterjee plays a very convincing Byomkesh. With his smart and sharp looks, he delivers an impressive performance as the super sleuth. Expecting to see more of him in the sequel.

With Topshe of yesteryears around, Anjan Dutt din’t have to look far to find out Ajit! Saswata Chatterjee looks solid in the role of Byomkesh’s closest friend and the candid narrator. His voice-overs throwing light on riots and independence take the character to a whole new height. Dutt also gives due importance to the character by sending Byomkesh away to Patna, leaving Ajit on his own to keep an eye on the suspects.

The selection of Ushashie Chakraborty does great justice to Satyabati. I have always admired the character of Satyabati for she is no ordinary woman. She is a woman of substance and adds her own charm to the stories, rare in detective stories for Byomkesh is the only sleuth to have a wife apart from Samuel Dashiell Hammett’s Nick Charles, through her brief but meaningful appearances. In the two phone call scenes where Satyabati appears, Ushashie doesn’t fail to impress. She looks very intelligent and very Bengali! Looking forward to see more of her in Chitrachor where Satyabati has a significant presence.

The feminist in Anjan Dutt makes the character of Shiuli, a sultry singer played by Swastika Mukherjee, speak up, going out of the original storyline and she gives Byomkesh a mouthful more than once in the movie. Dutt can have this liberty for Sharadindu was not a politically correct writer in his politically incorrect, colonial period. The character had a lot of potential but got spoiled by Swastika’s amateurish acting, although she most definitely adds a lot of oomph to the screen.

Biswajit Charakaborty as the crafty businessman Anadi Haldar, Kalyan Chatterjee as his blackmailing friend Keshto, Chandan Sen as the unscrupulous arms dealer Bantul all show great acting talents. Swagata Banerjee was an apt choice as Nanibala, the woman high on testosterone. Rudraneel looked like Prabhat straight out of the story book. Special mention is required of the actor who played the little role of the hotel owner.

Rating: 4/5

Byomkesh Bakshi – the first of the trilogy Anjan Dutt plans to make on the franchise – is definitely worth a watch. Now that the promise has been kept, a lot more is expected from the director. Can’t wait to see the sequel! Chitrachor has a very complex plot and makes great movie material. The expectation is too much!