From someone who has read all the books and seen all the shows: Overall, this is a must watch for all thriller fans and for all who have loved Byomkesh Bakshi without being too hung up about authenticity.
Detective Byomkesh Baskshy! proves that making decisions, right or wrong, rather than sitting on the fence to play safe or catering to all ensures a great outcome. The writing, Banerjee’s adaptation of Saradindu Bandopadhyay’s immortal detective saga and the screenplay by Banerjee and Urmi Juvekar, clearly underlines this fact. It is a bold decision to veer away from puritanism and authenticity, at least in totality. The idea is to clearly create a thriller led by a character to resonate with today’s viewer, not necessarily clued on or at least too bothered about Byomkesh as Bandopadhyay created him. Banerjee gets it right in his assertion, clearly seen in story, direction, and screenplay, that the viewer will care more about the end product – a slick thriller, an engaging story and a fast narrative that keeps you glued and compels you to pay attention, than sheer authenticity. Detective Byomkesh Bakshy delivers on all these fronts, though one misses the elements of unadulterated analytical genius manifested in near magical deductions which are a hallmark of Saradindu Bandopadhyay’s genius investigator.
Built largely around the first Byomkesh Bakshy story (Satyanveshi, 1932), where he takes his first steps as the ‘seeker of truth’ as he likes to call himself, with Banerjee’s bold enhancements the story becomes larger, takes off – and how! Kolkata (or Calcutta) as it was known then is portrayed with its kaleidoscopic colors & designs in 1943 – bang in the middle of WWII, which forms an integral part of the story. The depiction of the City of Joy is very different from the usually preferred sublime and sleepy avatar and is instead lively yet noir, colorful yet melancholy and quirky yet without being overtly so. On the canvas of this pulsating Kolkata, Banerjee paints a picture of crime driven by human frailties, quirks and intermingling motives punctuated with fast interplay of events and exciting twists. Also, all this is part of an intricate grand plan with sinister designs on the nation itself. It is elevation of a simple detective story to a grand thriller with a larger plot that will make the purist frown but will engage and entertain the larger crowd. Mind well, this is no masala movie for the average potboiler fan but is not humdrum intellectual fare either. Despite the many twists and turns, the climax is not overly confusing or contorted and that is the hallmark of a good suspense thriller. At the same time, it is not an open and shut closure in the clichéd sense and leaves the viewer with some anticipation for the future (a sequel, maybe).
The performances are solid – Sushant Singh Rajput puts in an honest effort but one cant help but suffer from the hangover of his past chocolatey roles and imagine what a Manoj Bajpayee or an Irrfan Khan could have done as a more intense Byomkesh. A comparison with Rajit Kapur’s portrayal in the TV series would probably be unfair as the format and the narration itself make the propositions very different. Neeraj Kabi is convincing but this casting choice raises a few questions, specifically the appearance. Divya Menon as Satyavati, Byomkesh’s love interest and also an important character in the movie, delivers a good debut performance while Swastika Mukherjee, as the femme fatale, does a good job too. Anand Tiwari as Ajit Bannerjee, Byomkesh’s assistant & aspiring author and Meiyang Chang as a key supporting character Kanai Dao, are more than competent amidst the milieu of characters. One wishes there was more of Mark Bennington as the solid DCP and Takanori Kikuchi as the sinister Dr. Watanabe but that would have probably been a nightmare for editors Manas Mittal & Namrata Mishra, who have done a good job here by keeping the runtime to around 2.5 hours and with not many unengaging bits.
From a technical standpoint, full marks and bonus points too to the cinematographer Nikos Andritsakis for his vision of Calcutta, which is almost like a character in the story without being intrusive. The screenplay is fantastic and so is the camera work though one does feel that noir does not need literal darkness all the time. A chill can be sent down the spine even in broad daylight or well-lit rooms. The music is a delight and arguably the best artistic liberty taken in this movie with a mix of metal, ballads and rap adding zing and x-factor to the thrilling events on screen.
Overall, this is a must watch for all thriller fans and for all who have loved Byomkesh Bakshi without being too hung up about authenticity. A word of advice to the old school fans – you may find the adaptation and the artistic liberties too much if you chose to focus on purism. Please go watch it for the sake of good old crime fiction, for the sake of a good story and for the sake of your grey cells too, in the midst of a lot of mindless fare which is dished out every weekend.