The genre of detective fiction still lurks only on the margins of Bollywood. When an indulgent banner like Yash Raj Films and an acclaimed filmmaker like Dibakar Banerjee make a lukewarm adaptation of the iconic, indigenous Byomkesh Bakshy, we know this fact is still true. It is 2015 and the filmmakers are talking to an audience exposed to the evolved excesses of Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Holmes. Recreating the 19th century detective, the TV series produces a mania and adapting the 20th century truth-seeker induces a manic depression. This depression passes through a road of deception. The disguise of grandeur and promise created by the production design has visually framed the World War II colonial Kolkata with impeccable finish. Add to it the costume design and the cinematography drawing the audience’s attention to foreign brands, Chinatown alleys, colonial interiors, trams and contemporary newspapers. The picture is perfect, the frame is flawless…. only unfortunately, to be filled with fluff and flake.
Unlike the genre of the action-thriller, the canvas of a case and its mysterious trail to discovery does not rely solely on the plot. Not the physical bravado of a Dabangg or a Rathore but this genre’s fan base is seeking the distinct heroism of the mind. Establishing the key character of the detective is central to meet this goal. It is the process of deduction and not the final resolution that lends the audience its ‘kicks’. Byomkesh Bakshy happens to be romanticized through several Bengali screen adaptations as well as by the legendary Rajit Kapur in the Doordarshan TV series. Its first Bollywood avatar sure did its round of buzz. Bakshy’s character as essayed by Sushant Singh Rajput’s acting, dips the raised wave of expectation. A middle class student of Vidya Sadan College, Rajput’s Byomkesh remains just that – a college student who accidentally and innocently gets embroiled in a plot within which he exerts little play or power. For instance, the most crucial decoding of the map takes place when Byomkesh identifies the cartographic route as that of river Ganga. The random brain wave that flashes through his mind at that moment thanks to the contrite dialogue written for his assistant Ajit Banerjee (Anand Tiwari) saps the joy of mystery-solving. It is even worse when this tactic is a repetition.
As if disappointing the audience was not enough, the filmmakers have replaced effective communication with condescension. When the already superfluous and unconvincing detective is made to spell out even the few credible deductions, the assumption of the audience’s naivety is plain humiliating. Byomkesh’s oft repeated questions regarding the missing clues in the case are painfully reminiscent of the mediocrity of script that pervades Indian detective TV shows like C.I.D. After this, arrives the unbearable and unending climax of the film – a round table chai session with all the pawns of the plot headed by Byomkesh’s narration of the resolved mystery and revelation of the true culprit (neither qualifies as a mystery for the audience by now). This long-winding narration may read well within the pages of a novel but not for a dramatic ending of a film. Even the supposed love ravaged murder of Anguri Devi (Swastika Mukherjee) is lackluster because there is not adequate build up and chemistry between her and Dr. Guha (Neera jKabi). The romantic plot between Byomkesh and Satyavati (Divya Menon) has received no attention and treatment just as the half-baked college romance between him and Leela (Moumita Chakraborty). Banerjee’s literary knowledge of Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay’s character enabled him to rope in the noir element with the femme fatale figure of Anguri Devi. However, the impenetrable veneer of make-up and lipstick could not veil the lack of acting. Thus, the most seductive moments remain those where the audience is viewing her body and not her face. Also, her victim position does not strike a chord of surprise or sympathy with the audience because she is not vicious enough in the first place.
The ironic and ridiculous shift in the representation of Dr. Guha from a cold, calculating villain in the narration scene to a self-destroying, blood-thirsty one in the next scene seems absurd. Apart from Dr. Guha’s mock threats to Byomkesh, Banerjee leaves the audience with the real threat – the promise of a sequel. Guess directors who insist on having an exclamation mark in the very title of their films for dramatic impact surely do not know how to create real drama on the reel.