Movie Review: Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! (2015)

Detective_Byomkesh_Bakshy_poster4 Stars (out of 4)

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Reviewer’s note: The character of Byomkesh Bakshy (originally spelled “Bakshi”) is a creation of Bengali author Sharadindu Bandhopadhyay, who wrote thirty-two stories about the detective between 1932 and 1970. I have never read any of Bandhopadhyay’s stories, so this review will not compare the original literary detective to Banerjee’s updated film version. I am treating Banerjee’s detective as a completely separate entity.

Director Dibakar Banerjee’s Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! is a visually stunning mystery that’s worth watching for its sumptuous style alone — though it also has much more going for it.

Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! opens with a brutal drug deal gone bad, before shifting forward in time to Calcutta, 1943. Byomkesh (Sushant Singh Rajput) is an unassuming young man with a reputation for solving mysteries. He’s quick to correct anyone who calls him a detective; he just pursues the truth.

A bespectacled young man, Ajit (Anand Tiwari), asks Byomkesh for help finding his missing father, but Byomkesh is dismissive. The man was most likely murdered for being mixed up in something shady or ran off with a woman, Byomkesh tells Ajit, who punches him before storming out.

When Byomkesh’s girlfriend confesses that she’s marrying a man with better job prospects, he apologizes to Ajit and takes on the case. Clues lead Byomkesh to a boarding house in another part of Calcutta, run by clever Dr. Guha (Neeraj Kabi). The search for clues takes a dangerous turn when Byomkesh finds a connection between Ajit’s missing father an a powerful politician.

The backdrop to Byomkesh’s investigation is a city on edge due to repeated bombings of strategic British targets by the Japanese. My Midwestern American primary education on World War II included no references to the effects of the war on British-controlled India, so I found the the film’s setting fascinating. As soon as the air raid sirens sounded during Byomkesh’s first night in the boarding house, I was hooked.

Banerjee takes the time and place into consideration in his shots. Shadows pervade, since overhead interior lights and bright streetlamps wouldn’t have been common during that era, and particularly not during wartime. The brightest shots in the film take place on the set of a movie starring Anguri Devi (Swastika Mukherjee, who looks every bit the bombshell).

The sound design of the film is equally as effective as the lighting. Urban hubbub stands in for a background score, and the specter of the air raid siren looms. When Byomkesh tentatively approaches a dormant furnace during his investigation, a ghostly mechanical thrum accompanies his steps.

When Banerjee does employ music with lyrics, the songs have a contemporary feel, be it Indian music or thrash metal. The juxtaposition of the period visuals with modern music heightens the emotional impact. Banerjee isn’t going for total authenticity. His representation of Calcutta is highly stylized, and the contemporary music suits it.

The music also makes the film’s graphic violence feel more appropriate. While there isn’t a lot of violence, that which exists is bloody and brutally administered. It’s shocking, and perhaps not for the faint of heart (and it’s especially inappropriate for children).

Yet what also makes it appropriate is Byomkesh’s reaction to this violence. He abhors it and feels responsible for those harmed even indirectly by his investigation. It’s one aspect of Byomkesh’s personality that makes him such a great character. He’s an ordinary guy in a pop culture era when trend demands that Western movie and TV detectives be quirky or socially maladroit. His only quirk is that he can’t let go of a case until he discovers the truth, even when it puts his life in danger.

Rajput is terrific, giving an understated performance that blends with the story rather than drawing attention to itself. During the course of the film, Byomkesh and Ajit develop a nice working friendship, and Tiwari matches Rajput’s style well.

Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! is ripe for a sequel, and it hope it gets several. A great lead character and a stunningly rendered Calcutta make Bakshy’s world one I want to revisit over and over again.

Links

  • Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! at Wikipedia
  • Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! at IMDb
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34 thoughts on “Movie Review: Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! (2015)

  1. JustMeMike

    Based on your very favorable review as well as the trailer – I shall endeavor to see this one. And the good news is that the AMC Veterans 24 in Tampa has it. From what I can tell, the director and his staff have done an inspiring job of recreating the Calcutta of 1943. And I did like Sushant Singh Rajput in that romance with Parineeti Chopra Shudd Desi Romance.

    Reply
  2. Parth

    Excellent review kathy,
    i just came back from the show, I loved it. Loved it.
    Bromkesh Bakshi first came on television in late 80’s. and whole nation went mad .That show was pure genius.

    First thing that i LOVED was setting of the story, we never see India in world war 2. 3-4 million Indians (South Asian now) fought in the war but never gets even a mention anywhere. I loved India in WW2 set up. And how cosmopolitan was India. Burmese, Japanese, Chinese every ethnicity was found here.

    The story is so good, new twists and climax was high point. and performances were great. Mr. Rajput gave an excellent performance and i guess we have found a gem in Neeraj Kabi.

    But most, the craft of the movie is mind blowing. Lighting, Sound design cinematography par excellent. great movie.

    i demand a sequel of the movie.

    Reply
    1. Kathy Post author

      Thanks, Parth, and I’m glad you enjoyed the movie as much as I did. The depiction of the historical period is fascinating, isn’t it? And thanks for pointing out Banerjee’s emphasis on Calcutta as a worldly city. I felt dumb for not realizing that the city at that time would have had a Chinatown. I want sequels just so I can see more movies set in that world.

      Reply
      1. shrey

        Well, the bigger reason for calcutta having a chinatown is that after the ‘Rape of Nanking’, several thousand Chinese migrated to india via mountain passes and calcutta being the nearest metropolis to india-china border… They were there up until the 1962 india-china war

        Reply
  3. A Potpourri of Vestiges

    Really enjoyed reading you brilliant review!

    Here are my thoughts:

    Here, Banerjee doesn’t merely seem interested in adapting the stories of Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay. He has his eyes set on a bigger and a more challenging goal: to transform pulp into cinema while adding his own creative touches in the process and simultaneously ensuring that the spirit of the source material remains intact.

    “Detective Byomkesh Bakshy!” is targeted towards a new audience and is bound to disappoint the purists (they can still find solace in the 1993 Television series telecasted on Doordarshan). However, Byomkesh Bakshi enthusiasts can still enjoy the film if they choose to approach it with an open mind.

    It’s never a cinch to recreate a certain epoch in history and the fact that Banerjee and team meticulously reconstructed the 1940s Calcutta not only speak volumes about their commitment but actually help orchestrate an enchanting mise-en-scène that adds great detail to a sprawling period piece like “Detective Byomkesh Bakshy!”

    Add to this a thick plot, actors who can act with conviction, some brilliantly crafted dialogue, thrash metal music, Leone’s signature camera movements, Welles’ characteristic use of shadows and silhouettes, and shades of Tarantino-esque violence. Voila! We have crafted a palpable atmosphere that will hold the viewer in a vice-like grip until the end credits began to roll.

    Overall, “Detective Byomkesh Bakshy!” can best be described as a marriage of commercial and experimental filmmaking. It is entertainment galore but not at the expense of creative freedom. In the context of contemporary Hindi cinema, “Detective Byomkesh Bakshy!” is nothing short of a monumental achievement. And those who think that Hindi cinema is not good enough to make great suspense thrillers anymore certainly need to watch this film. And amidst a series of memorable performances, it’s Neeraj Kabi’s portrayal of Dr. Guha that stands first among equals.

    My full review can be read at:

    Read more: http://www.apotpourriofvestiges.com/2015/04/detective-byomkesh-bakshy-2015-dibankar.html

    Reply
    1. Kathy Post author

      Thanks so much, and thanks for linking to your review! Between this movie and Kahaani, Calcutta/Kolkata is a city that should be much more popular with Hindi-film directors. It’s like a character in itself!

      Reply
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  5. Shah Shahid

    I loved how pulpy this looked. The Trailer was too overloaded with crap though, but definitely unique. And glad Rajput paid off. this kid`s a good actor, when he doesn`t seem like Ranveer Singh lite anyways.

    Awesome Review Kathy. And the movie definitely looks franchise worthy, especially given my hopes for a `Kill Dill` sequel will probably never be fulfilled. 😦

    Reply
  6. Rik

    The film isn’t doing that well in India. I asked a lot of people what they felt, and some of the common replies were that the plot was either ‘complicated’ or ‘simplistic’. Based on this I have come to a conclusion, which is, the plot development of the film consists of a framework that required a bigger budget than what it was actually provided with. As a result, key developments, especially those in the latter half, occur mainly through conversations. Because of this, people who are not good ‘listeners’ felt the film to be tiresome because they couldn’t keep up with it, while those who comprehended the film’s overall structure, felt the film to be simplistic, because key issues could not be ‘stretched’ in detail for budget constraints.

    So, I ask you, regarding my theory, did you fathom the plot developments primarily through ‘what you saw’ or through ‘what you read’? If its the former, I am a bad observer, and if its the latter, people in general are better readers than listeners because the film is performing better overseas where subtitles are the basis for comprehension.

    Reply
    1. Kathy Post author

      This is a good question, Rik. My answer is that, because I was so absorbed in the movie, I can’t really remember if the plot developments in the second half were more often expressed visually or verbally. 🙂 I’d have to watch the movie a second time (which I plan on doing anyway).

      However the plot developed, I will say that I never found the movie boring. There’s enough visual detail — costumes, sets, etc. — that perhaps that makes up for any periodic lapses in the action. I also would’ve liked to have sees what Banerjee could’ve done with a bigger budget. Since there’s so much source material available, I’m willing to bet that DBB was a test to see if it could make enough money to entice investors for sequels. If so, it could mean bigger budgets for future films.

      I liked that DBB rewarded viewers who paid attention, so I don’t put too much stock in the complaints of those who found the film “complicated.” Since the Hindi film industry doesn’t produce a lot of mysteries, I’m guessing Banerjee tried to make a story that was accessible to the widest portion of the audience possible. Also, DBB is an origin story, which doesn’t leave as much time for an intricate mystery. If it gets a sequel, the mystery will be the sole focus.

      I hope this is a satisfying answer. And to your point about overseas audiences, I’m pretty sure that subtitle-reliant, non-Hindi speakers like myself are still in the minority. The majority of American Bollywood fans are native Hindi speakers.

      Reply
      1. Rik

        Thanks for the reply. 🙂 I am planning to watch it again as well, though this time i’ll ensure that I know the plot very well before I enter the theater, to keep a tab on what is happening and how. I too don’t think that the movie can be termed as boring. It has enough going on to keep people with any degree of concentration engaged, though at points I thought the director’s intrusion into the material was a little conspicuous.
        However, every person who has watched it should agree that the vision behind the film has been very rich. Though as an introduction a comparatively simplistic plot would have been more in accordance with the budget, as had been done by Satyajit Ray and Anjan Dutt when they made their first (in case of Ray, the only one) Byomkesh film, but Banerjee’s venture outsmarted both in terms of wit and innovation.
        Finally, speaking of sequel, Rajput told in cnnibn that when he asked Banerjee in the last week of shoot if there is any such plan, the latter had informed that it primarily depends upon how the first one works. This puts a little question mark over the developments. However, few days back in Telegraph Banerjee’s interview stated that he will start working on the sequel after making another film in between. I hope the latter is the way things will occur. 🙂

        Reply
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