Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! Hindi Movie Review
If there was a unit of measurement for excitement levels, my levels would've been through the roof every time someone mentioned the words "Detective Byomkesh Bakshy". And I'm not talking about any ordinary kind of excitement. I'm talking jumping-up-and-down, widest-smile-in-the-world, wetting-your-pants excitement.
So, I walked into the theater with expectations the size of a giant mountain weighing down on me. The downside of such humongous expectations and wish fulfillment, though, is that more often than not, they're dashed with the severity of two trucks in a headlong collision.
But worry not. Your expectations will be returned to you after the film safe and doing, if a little dumbfounded and awestruck. After years and years of unrequited prayers and bribing God, mainstream Bollywood finally has a detective that is neither completely incompetent nor will make you cheer for the villain to kill him off before the interval itself. At last, we have our own desi Sherlock Holmes, without all the neurosis. So maybe our very own Hercule Poirot.
For director Dibakar Banerjee's much awaited follow-up to the thrilling, sterling 2012 film Shanghai, he brings to life for the first time in Hindi cinema the popular fictional detective from Bengali literature Byomkesh Bakshy, created by Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay. Following him on his first case, which starts off as a simple task of locating a missing person, the mystery turns into a conspiracy of magnanimous proportions that threatens to shatter the peace in Calcutta forever.
For a first film in a prospective series, you'd expect to be served a delicious yet straightforward whodunnit with a tidy bow wrapped around it by the end. Instead, you get drugs, multiple murders, Japanese cartels, political turmoil and deviously unpredictable characters. And at the center of it all, you get a Byomkesh Bakshy who isn't an arrogant know-it-all, and isn't infallible and impervious to being played by a smarter nemesis.
You get a mystery that deepens as it goes along; a mystery that appears insolvable the more you think about it; a mystery with so many red herrings and deliberate distractions that it's hard to keep track; a mystery with no end in sight; a mystery that leaves you anxious as hell and has you shivering with elation; a mystery where you're still making wild guesses even as the big reveal comes knocking on your door; and a mystery that has as satisfying an answer as you could possibly hope for when you finally open that door.
The combined, composite and compounded effect of it all is a thrilling head rush, that leaves you feeling giddy with pleasure and with the biggest smile on your face as the various layers are peeled back and the truth is out in the open. And who better to make you feel like a 15 year-old out on his first date than Banerjee, a rare director who realizes the value of every single syllable uttered by every single character in every single scene.
Having not read a single one of Bandyopadhyay's original works, it's hard for me to say how much of the character Byomkesh in this film is his creation and how much is the result of the flowing creative juices of frequent collaborators/writers Banerjee and Urmi Juvekar. What I do know, though, is that they make Byomkesh frank and outspoken, yet completely lovable and worth rooting for. They don't go over-the-top in making him an incomparable genius with mind vaults and deductive skills that are sharper than knives used in stabbings in prison. He connects the dots organically with time, not by doing some Jedi mind trick. They find just the right balance between the importance and screentime given to his crime-solving and his interpersonal relationships.
Even though they do make his sidekick Ajit a little James Watson-type of a character, getting pulled into his partners dangerously wild goose-chases, he is nonetheless makes for a wonderful brain simulant to Byomkesh. And finally, the Achilles heel of every failed detective film, the big bad villain actually turns out to be a scary and menacing son/daughter of a gun who justifies all the running around. Like any other destructive antagonist, he/she is completely deranged and psychotic, but in an unusually grounded and believable way. He/she isn't the sort of person that can be swatted away like a fly. He/she is the one who swats.
Banerjee proves once again that his only area of predictability is his complete unpredictability. With every single one of his big screen outings, he sends you the message that his films are something to look forward to, some kind of an event where you should expect the unexpected. In Detective Byomkesh Bakshy, he is at the peak of his storytelling prowess, almost like he's showing off how big a sack of unlimited talent he is. He runs you around in circles without you ever knowing, only to make you look like a fool for not having deduced the ending yourself. He lets multiple threads roll in different directions, only to tie them up neatly in an astounding package.
He and frequent collaborator/cinematographer Nikos Andritsakis give the film a distinct and stylish look, 1940s Calcutta by day and an old-timey Russian graphic novel by night. They have so many tricks up their sleeves to keep the audience distracted from the real mystery, from tight close-ups to revolving shots. Editing by Manas Mittal and Namrata Rao too is incredibly stylish and incredibly crisp. The film comes together as smooth as pancake batter. The musical score, by various contributing artists that are lead by Sneha Khanwalker, is a fascinating one. A heady cocktail of alternate rock, hard metal and jazz, it makes for one of the most unique Hindi soundtracks of all time and one of the better ones this year.
Sushant Singh Rajput is given plenty of opportunities to screw up his role of Byomkesh Bakshy, and consequently the film, but instead he gives the most sure-footed performance of his career. Fitting the character of a detective in the 1940s like a glove, complete with dhotis, slicked back hair, a mustache and a unibrow, Sushant gives it his all and comes out the other side triumphant. Whether it's Byomkesh's vulnerability, his lightbulb moments of genius, his frustration or even his comic moments, Sushant pulls it off with an uncharacteristic ease and effortless charm, and takes the film's graph from utterly convincing to thoroughly compelling.
Anand Tiwari is once again in top form as Byomkesh's counterfoil Ajit. He gives able support to Sushant and always has a clever one-liner up his sleeve. Bengali actress Swastika Mukherjee is okay in her Hindi-language debut as an unpredictable character. Divya Menon is efficient in the role of Byomkesh's love interest. Neeraj Kabi's performance as Doctor Anukul Guha is another one of the standout performances in the film, one that'll stay with you for some time. Meiyang Chang is pretty decent in his portrayal of a Calcutta resident of Japanese descent.
Banerjee leaves you in the end with the delicious prospect of a sequel, one that couldn't come fast enough, and knowing Banerjee, wouldn't come fast enough. Till then, you get to feast on a scrumptious delight of a film that has the repeat viewing value of a classic. If there's only one Bollywood film that you're going to watch during the remainder of your life, make it Dibakar Banerjee's smart and savvy guessing game that is Detective Byomkesh Bakshy.