No, not another screen version of Byomkesh Bakshi, a franchise that’s been literally milked dry of all mystery by filmmakers in the last decade. To be fair, Hoichoi’s Byomkesh is a rather well-made series, the adaptations more faithful to Sharadindu’s stories than some of the film versions we have had. For one, the production design is admirable, with close attention to period detail, the performances top-notch, and at an hour’s running time the episodes are crisp and engaging. That the series is now into its fourth season – the earlier seasons having featured classic Byomkesh novels Pather Kanta, Makorhsar Rash and Rakter Daag – is testimony to the fact that Bengali viewers cannot have enough of the detective who hates being called one – he prefers ‘satyanweshi’, a seeker of truth.
The new season is an adaptation of Sharadindu’s Agnibaan – a typically convoluted Sharadindu mystery, with a galaxy of ingenious characters – a docile, henpecked scientist, his nagging, insufferable wife (who even makes a pass at Byomkesh!), and a doctor who listens to Wagner because he is Hitler’s favourite composer, and not only supports the gas chambers but also conducts illegal experiments on unsuspecting patients of his own. But what really makes the series work is the actor essaying Byomkesh, Anirban Bhattacharya, whose laconic tough-cop act in the recently released Vinci Da has been getting praises. A promotional music video for the fourth season of the show, also has Byomkesh rapping. Bhattacharya – also a musician – has written and sung the rap number, titled Bakshi Babu.
Bhattacharya’s star has been on the rise over the last couple of years, and in the last year itself, he has featured in blockbusters like Uma, Ek Je Chhilo Raja and Shahjahan Regency, apart from eye-catching roles in Eagoler Chokh and Aparna Sen’s Arshinagar earlier. But while his film appearances so far have largely been in the mould of “character roles”, the Byomkesh web series provides him a bigger scope to display his acting range.
In an interview, Bhattacharya chats about his take on the detective, and the idea behind the song, an imaginative tribute to a classic character in a contemporary context.
With at least a dozen recent adaptations, how tough was it to put his take across?
When I was approached for the role, I was nervous. I kept wondering if there was anything new left to explore. And from Uttam Kumar to Abir Chatterjee to Jisshu Sengupta, so many big stars have essayed the role. But that in itself is a challenge.
How did you address the challenge?
At the end of the day, a sleuth, at least the ones we have in Bangla, is primarily chair-bound … so, if you continue acting as one over seasons, fatigue or boredom is likely to set in. As a reader, it is interesting to try and figure out, visualize the detective, but as an actor it can be limiting.
What the web series has allowed me to do is try and develop a graph for Byomkesh. Within the confines of the chair – his patented mannerisms with his glasses, the way he holds his cigarette – I have tried to experiment with certain facets. If you watch over the seasons so far, I think you might find different shades to him – there’s the lazy Byomkesh, the sharp one, the family man, he is laid-back at times, impatient at others, he is judgemental, he cooks and often makes a mess of it, yet is cutting about his friend Ajit’s cooking abilities. The format gives me the freedom to do this, which may not be possible in a film.
And ‘Byomkesh rap’? How did that originate?
I have been writing and singing from my theatre days – and it just struck me: why can’t we have a song for Byomkesh? So I wrote one, composed the tune and sang it.
What about the controversy it has generated and the general media feedback that has been vitriolic?
Look, they think it’s Byomkesh singing; it’s not – people have formed an opinion even before the series goes on air. It’s my tribute to Byomkesh, an attempt to look at him from the perspective of today’s generation. And I can’t do that with a kirtan, can I?
How are you dealing with the backlash?
I have come to realize that as a people we are not very balanced in our opinions. We are either lavish in our praise, everything is hyperbole, or it’s the exact opposite – What’s this tomfoolery with an icon, how dare he? Cut off his tongue. There is little understanding of “deconstruction” here. Look at what Guy Ritchie has done with Holmes or the BBC series starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman. And this is not even a fraction of that. It’s not even part of the narrative. What’s the big deal? I have read Sharadindu inside-out and this is my way of trying to articulate what a classic character means, in a language that is “now” – not that rap hasn’t been around for decades, right from Ashok Kumar’s “Railgadi”, written by Harendranath Chattopadhyay, maybe even earlier.