Sleuth in the making, Byomkesh Bakshy (Sushant Singh Rajput), solves his first case in Calcutta in 1942-3 against the backdrop of World War II.
Impeccable production design creating Calcutta of the 1940s, moody cinematography, and an eclectic lively soundtrack can only do so much in a film that otherwise tells a not-so-engaging story in a rather slow-paced, drudging manner. It’s a pity since the thriller (and noir) elements are all there – a disappearing character, a murder, more cover up killings, multiple red herrings, the slinky femme fatale and of course, the private eye – in the murky lanes of Calcutta. The problem is, it just doesn’t all come together as well as it should.
There have many, many adaptations of the legendary detective created by Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay on the Bengali film front (including one by Satyajit Ray, Chiriakhana (1967) with no less than Uttam Kumar as the famed detective), as well as a TV series on Doordarshan. And admittedly, Banerjee does give us his unique visualization and interpretation of the sleuth (Sherlock?), but unfortunately at the cost of storytelling. For all the attention to detail in its mounting and some great shot taking (the tracking shot of establishing Calcutta through the tram), the film could have done with some attention to its screenplay as well. The film lacks the necessary tension to draw you into its world and the mystery element too doesn’t hold up well. As it is, most of the twists and turns and the revelation of the bad guy is no surprise and the film does not grip you enough to care about the why of events. While the film begins well enough with a boat bringing in opium to Calcutta in the dead of night in November 1942, gradually it disengages you as it plods on lifelessly. The languid pace begins to tell as scenes appear stretched and there is no worthwhile big pay off with the climax being a big let down. To top it all, you feel a sense of confusion in the treatment of the muddled storytelling, which swings from some great innovative moments to some rank bad Bollywood ones.
The weakest acting element in the film comes from its star and his tacky make-up. While it is, no doubt, a sincere portrayal by Sushant Singh Rajput, his limitations an a actor appear all the more obvious in the midst of other fine actors in the cast. Anand Tiwari does well as Ajit Bannerjee, whose missing father sets off the chain of events in the film, and Neeraj Kabi has his extremely strong moments till his ham-bacon-sausage scenery chewing act in the climax even if, admittedly, he does enjoy letting go. Meiyang Chang and Mark Bennington are adequate enough but the women, unfortunately, don’t come off well at all. Swastika Mukherjee as the femme fatale character fails to make any impact due to some extremely stilted dialogue delivery and unintentionally hilarious posturing, while Divya Menon, though striking to look at, is weak as an actress and is defeated by the sketchiness of her role with no sparks flying between her and Rajput at all.
Technically, Vandana Kataria has to be lauded for her absolutely amazing production design down to the smallest prop. And the look and feel of the film is only enhanced by cinematographer Nick Andritsakis’ beautiful play of light and shade. Sneha Khanwalkar’s soundtrack is another plus, even if overdone here and there.
The end of the film is left open ended in case the franchise takes off and if this happens, one sincerely hopes the subsequent films get better since this one is a bit of a disappointment.
Hindi, Thriller, Color
Header Photograph courtesy Yash Raj Films