1943 Kolkata. A Gang of Chinese thugs are trying to unload their drugs on the banks of the Ganges. They do so successfully, but before they could make their way with the stuff, a hooded man thought to be Yun Gong, aided by others, arrives at the spot and loots the Drugs. The news spreads to Shanghai and the bosses want their stuff back. Meanwhile in Kolkata a helpless college student Ajit (Anand Tiwari), whose father has been missing for 2 months, asks for the help of his college mate, Byomkesh Bakshy (Sushant Singh Rajput) to track him down. Bakshy who is known to be less than cordial, agrees to help him after he suffers a personal tragedy when his love is married off to someone else and he is left holding her marriage card.
His search for Ajit’s father leads him to a lodge where he meets the charismatic Anukul Guha (Neeraj Kabi). Following his instincts and with some luck, he is able to track down the murdered remains of Ajit’s father, hidden in a factory. Ajit’s father is later found to be a surprisingly talented chemist. The discovery of his dead body sets about a chain of events which brings to light a sinister plot to attack and destroy Kolkata coming from a powerful adversary. The plot also involves a conspiracy of Opium smuggling led by the legendary Yun Gong who was thought to be dead but surfaces at a tumultuous time to make the most out of the fast wrecking political scenario of the city.
Dibakar Banerjee establishes his screenplay on the first Byomkesh Bakshy story entitled “Satyanweshi”. However he takes liberty from the actual plot and introduces characters and scenarios of his own to the extent that one might sight the story as almost completely re-written. This was also the case with Rituparno Ghosh’s film Satyanweshi which was based on the story “Chorabali” but was completely re-written keeping only the basic plot points and characters in place. Both the films suffer to some extent primarily because of the additions to the plot and both the directors are unable to keep the perpetrator under the veil of mist. While Satyanweshi hammed to an extent, Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! commits the blasphemy of exposing the same baddy twice which was the biggest let down for me.
The film moves along at a lethargic pace which after a while does get on your nerve. However the constant body pile up helps to keep you interested. What works more for the film is the breathtaking cinematography by Nikos Andritsakis, a long time collaborator for Banerjee. The film provides an authentic look at the Kolkata of the 40s with considerable use of VFX to make up for the chinks in the armor. The principal cast members do a wonderful job. I was simply taken aback by the wonderful performance of Sushant Singh Rajput. I never considered him to be more than an average actor but here he surpassed all my expectations. He is perfect as the disillusioned Bakshy who is “got better off” by his adversary more than once but in the end comes out trumps. He is confused and dazed at many junctures and his reactions though spontaneous are not apt. He gets thrashed by Ajit for an inappropriate verbal exchange and yet repeats his mistake again and again.
Neeraj Kabi, the saint from “Ship Of Theseus” is electric. From the first scene he makes his appearance, you know that there is more to him than what meets the eye. He is the one who keeps you engrossed and excited about what his character might be about and how would he relate with Bakshy. That in turns is also the biggest weakness of the film as you know from the beginning that he is not what it seems. Swastika Mukherjee as the svelte and sexy Anguri Devi is apt. She both looks and acts the part. Anand Tiwari as Ajit doesn’t have much to do this time but seems like he could mature up to be the perfect Bollywood Ajit.
Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! Has a sparkling story to tell but a few blunders in terms of the screenplay and a lack of genuine thrills and mystery makes it a less than satisfying watch. For all those who have read the stories or even seen the DD National series starring Rajit Kapoor as Byomkesh, will find this a tiring watch. For those who are going in without any prior ideas will find it a decent watch for the good performances, ravishing visuals and a somewhat “could have been”interesting story. The story though interesting is still abundantly predictable which is a primary roadblock to its success. Having said that, the film is still a step in the right direction. It is time we embraced less than perfect heroes and dark screenplays devoid of unnecessary song and dance routines.
Dibakar Banerjee would be well served to take a point or two from Anjan Dutta who has made three prolific Byomkesh Bakshi films in Bengali centering his narrative on Saradindu Bandopaddhyay ‘s stories and not taking too many liberties resulting in some highly organic storytelling which holds you for the duration of the screening. Overall, I am unsatisfied with what I saw. That however may not be the case with other. So I insist that you watch this film for the amount of effort and novelty that it brings along with it, if not for the mystery or suspense.