More than a film, Byomkesh feels like a 135-minute exposition that dives straight into the climax and drops strong hints at a sequel. This is the film’s biggest weakness AND strength. However, an undeniable fact is that Dibakar Banerjee has created (possibly) the coolest pseudo-realistic/fictional universe in the history of Bollywood.
Okay, I’ll get this cleared up first – Detective Byomkesh Bakshy is not for the purist. You can see it in the name – Dibakar abandons the traditional ‘I’ in the name with a more stylised ‘Y’. The Byomkesh of this universe is heavily inspired by Poirot and Sherlock, rather than the one loved by Bengalis. In this universe he’s no Satyanveshi, he’s merely an amateur investigator. This is Byomkesh Bakshy: Year One.
Still, there is a lot to enjoy about this movie. And it gives us a LOT to look forward to.
Detective Byomkesh Bakshy opens on a dark, cold night in 1942 Calcutta. A bunch of Chinese people, smuggling opium, come across a hooded figure. They try to scare the figure away, but instead get their throats slit, with a terrifying warning – this hooded figure ‘wants his Calcutta back from the Chinese’.
With that opening, Dibakar Banerjee beautifully merges pulp fiction, noir and the 1940s – giving us the heady concoction that is Detective Byomkesh Bakshy.
Dibakar Banerjee has created an intricate universe – his 1940s Calcutta almost feels like Tim Burton’s Gotham City – and has paid due attention to detail. Every poster, every character, every building, every car, EVERYTHING looks and feels exactly like the 1940s.
That said, he keeps it contemporary with his actors – who pull off their roles with élan. Sushant Singh Rajput is a raw, untested Byomkesh Bakshy (he doesn’t consider himself to be a detective) who isn’t quite his razor-sharp self. He makes mistakes galore and even engages in a bit of buffoonery at times. His ‘sidekick’, Ajit Banerjee (the delightful Anand Tiwari) comes to him with the case of his missing father, and that’s when all hell breaks loose, literally. We also have the inimitable Neeraj Kabi as Dr. Anukul Guha, a kindly, intelligent owner of a lodging house, Meiyang Chang as Kanai Dao, a ‘legal’ opium dealer, Satyawati played by Divya Menon, and a host of other characters that serve only as red herrings. But the acting is class across. Especially Neeraj Kabi.
The last 5-10 minutes is another brilliant bit of filmmaking from Dibakar. He leaves us wanting more, so much more.
“For the want of world creation, the plot was lost.”
Alas, the movie doesn’t stay true to its ‘Expect the Unexpected’ theme.
Yes. Detective Byomkesh Bakshy, thanks to its breathtakingly fast screenplay, goes straight from exposition to climax. He doesn’t give any of his characters breathing space – apart from Byomkesh, Ajit (to an extent) and the antagonist (whose name I shall not reveal). All the red herrings are glaringly obvious and the reveal is not particularly satisfying – especially not when you solve the mystery before the detective himself! As a big fan of Poirot and Sherlock since childhood, the story didn’t really appeal to me much. However, thanks to the direction, the climax leaves you in a good mood – and you are definitely looking forward to another Byomkesh Bakshy adventure at the end of it.
The Climax – and why you should watch this film
One of the most riveting climax scenes you would’ve watched sort of makes up for the almost sloppily written story. The antagonist is terrifying, and his (or her) acting takes the film to another plane. Sushant is inch-perfect as the first-time detective, stumbling along the way, yet using his sharp wit and intellect to get by.
This is a film we must watch, so we can get more of it. I, for one, can’t wait for Detective Byomkesh Bakshy 2.
Given how it ends, you are almost inclined to ask – Ab kya karoge, Dibakar Babu?