The character of Byomkesh Bakshi, created by Bengali writer Sharadindu Bandyopadhyaya has been portrayed by numerous actors on different platforms (theatre, television and films). Director Dibakar Banerjee’s Detective Byomkesh Bakshy traces the journey of the sleuth as he sets out to solve his first case. Each of the films directed by Dibakar Banerjee has been different from each other as far as the subject and the treatment is concerned. After making a social comedy (‘Khosla Ka Ghosla’), a black comedy (‘Oye Lucky Lucky Oye’), an anthology film shot in the found footage style (‘Love Sex Aur Dhokha’), a political thriller (‘Shanghai’) and a drama (Star from ‘Bombay Talkies’), Dibakar tries his hand at a crime thriller set in the pre-independence Calcutta.
The year is 1942. India has not gained independence yet and Calcutta is filled with Chinese gangsters who deal in opium. The underworld mafia is shaken by the sudden re-emergence of gangster Yang Guang, who was believed to be dead. Yang Guang makes a rival gangster blind and kills several of his gang members. A week later, Ajit Banerjee (Anand Tiwari) approaches Byomkesh Bakshy (Sushant Singh Rajput) to help him find his father Bhuvan Banerjee who has been missing since long. Byomkesh refuses to take up the case at first and relents after a while. While investigating the disappearance of Bhuvan Banerjee, Byomkesh stumbles upon some shocking revelations that force him to delve deeper into the case. He realizes that there is a common link between the disappearance of Bhuvan Banerjee, the drug mafia and Yang Guang. In his journey to unravel the truth, Byomkesh comes across various people and goes through a lot of tribulations.
The film maintains a good pace and manages to keep the viewers on their edge of their seats throughout most of its duration. The film has a consistently intense feel to it which works well for the genre. Casting a prominent actor as the villain, whose identity is supposed to be kept in the dark, is not a wise decision. The way the film plays out, it is not difficult to guess as to who the main antagonist is. That is probably one of the biggest flaws of this film which did have an intention to create suspense around his identity. There are too many characters and sub-plots in the film and if you lose your attention even for a second, chances are that you will miss an important piece of information. Dibakar and co-writer Urmi Juvekar try to pack in a lot of elements in the script. The film touches upon certain events that happened in the period in which the film is set in. The fictional characters are placed in situations that people in the country went through. The problem is that the plot gets very convoluted at times.
Dibakar Banerjee is in a very good form as a director as he makes a visually stunning film that is engaging largely because of the way it has been presented. He tries his best to bring out drama, suspense and thrill out of the written material but he falters as a writer. The writers (Dibakar Banerjee and Urmi Juvekar) bite more than they can chew. The viewers are fed with too much information and little explanation. To keep the viewers guessing, the writers introduce too many subplots, some of which serve no purpose at all. Then, there are some twists and turns which one could have guessed from a mile away. The dialogues are simple but impactful. There are no complaints on the technical front at all. Nikos Andritsakis’s camerawork which consists of some interesting play of light and shadow sets the mood for the film. The experimental music (Madboy/Mink, Sneha Khanwalkar, Dibaker Banerjee, Blek, Peter Cat Recording Co., Mode AKA, Joint Family and IJA) has a delightful mixture of various genres and has been incorporated very well in the film. The background score is refreshingly original and elevates the impact of various scenes. Vandana Kataria successfully recreates the Calcutta of the 1940s with the sets and the overall production design. The visual effects (Prana Studios) are very good and they too help in recreating the milieu of a bygone era. The editing (Manas Mittal and Namrata Rao) is good.
Sushant Singh Rajput plays the character of a young man who is always in the search of the truth. Even though one has seen many actors playing Byomkesh in the past, the one played by Sushant in the film is very different from those characters. This young Byomkesh is a little immature and reckless but sharp nevertheless. Anand Tiwari brings some humour in an otherwise serious narrative. Neeraj Kabi, last seen in ‘Ship Of Theseus’, is extraordinary as Dr. Guha. He gets many moments to shine and prove his mettle as an actor. Swastika Mukherjee shows a lot of oomph and acts well too. Divya Menon, though seen in a brief role, makes a good impact with her performance. Meiyang Chang does well.
The Hindi film industry does not churn out many suspense thrillers and Detective Byomkesh Bakshy looked the kind of film that could satiate the appetite of a person who loves this genre. Though the film does not work very well as a suspense drama, it delivers enough thrills to keep the viewers engaged. There is so much to like about the film. The complex narrative structure will not be liked by a certain section of the audience. Even with all its flaws, it is one of the better films to have arrived this year. It deserves a watch.