Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! (English Subtitled)
Writer Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay's beloved fictional Bengali detective, Byomkesh Bakshy, has been adapted to cinema so many times, what's one more for the road? Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! is director Dibakar Banerjee's baby, and it's mostly an engrossing if leisurely watch. In inhabiting the celebrated "satyanweshi" (translation: seeker of truth), as Byomkesh was wont to style himself, actor Sushant Singh Rajput affects Byomkesh's trademark unibrow look. Genetics had already given him the lean and lanky build.
As the film opens, everyone in the neighborhood knows Byomkesh Bakshy, never mind that he's yet to make his mark. It's 1943 in Calcutta, a town imperiled daily by the great global war. At the India-Burma border, the Japanese army is itching to overrun Calcutta. Within the border, the downtrodden people chafe under their British overlords and hunker down when the air raid sirens wail away. Within the border, the Chinese Green Gang operates its opium dens. Lives are cheap.
Byomkesh Bakshy, poor fellow, is fresh out of college and doesn't present much in the way of prospects. His darling Leela has just rebuffed him to marry a well-established chemist. So why not take on that missing persons case he'd rejected earlier in the day? His client is Ajit Banerjee (Anand Tiwari) whose father vanished two months ago. Those aware of Byomkesh Bakshy's mythology recognize Ajit for the eventual sidekick he'd become to Byomkesh, and his Boswell, as well. For now, there is understated resentment between them. Maybe Byomkesh shouldn't have conjectured out loud that Ajit's dad may have run off with some wench. He may have deserved Ajit's resounding slap.
Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! is as slick a period production as any the mighty Yash Raj Films has taken on. I'm no historian of India, but seems to me that this movie, presenting an entirely impeccable mise en scène, captures the zeitgeist of pre-Independence Calcutta circa 1940s. I was instantly immersed in the tumult and grit and grime and disposition of 1943 Calcutta.
Why then ruin the ambiance with an unruly, anachronistic heavy metal soundtrack?
It's a tightly-woven mystery, but, omigosh, so many moving parts to it. You really have to pay attention. You must power thru the draggy bits. The plot observes the nucleus of how a whodunit is constructed. The dogged pursuit, the school of red herrings, the gathering of suspects in the drawing room for the grand denouement. For red-blooded viewers like you and me, the movie occasionally splatters blood on the screen, treats us to abrupt acts of savagery, lest we forget that war-torn Calcutta was far from a peaceful haven.
I wasn't sure what to make of our champion at first. He starts out not being so impressive. But, shortly after, he begins piecing things together, uttering these self-assured deductions, merely by having observed some minor detail or catching some person's throwaway remark. Byomkesh has enough of these eruptions of clarity that I got hooked into his character. He's a bold hombre, too. Seeking truths, he doesn't hesitate to impersonate a police officer. Later, he gets even bolder.
One think I wish that were done: I wish there'd been a definitive scene in which Byomkesh is tormented by the fact that it's his persistence that triggers the deaths of those around him. I think there were scenes that did touch on Byomkesh's feeling guilt, but they were more ambiguous than unequivocal. Hey, it would've been an interesting character note. I'm pretty sure he felt bad about it.
A sultry seductress. A terrifying bogeyman. A dangerous wartime conspiracy. Some fun with betel leaves. Blackmail! Disguises! Poisoning! Murder! A girl showing *gasp* forbidden skin! Death metal music! Thru it all, Byomkesh Bakshy presses on, unibrow furrowed mightily as he closes in on the culprit. If you relish Bollywood noir, if you prefer your Hindi cinema atmospheric and absent of musical interludes, if you get stoked when the hero stages a clever, last-minute bit of trickeration to nail a cunning arch-criminal... snag this movie. Divya Menon is simply lovely as Byomkesh's reticent love interest, but you know who should've played her? Kajol. Think about it. Never mind.