It has been difficult to choose between Sherlock and Feluda for the longest time. However, Byomkesh Bakshi has always been a class apart. His style of solving mysteries without any larger-than-life persona makes him what he is. There is an endearing core to the brilliant person Byomkesh is well known to be. However, Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay creates all his characters with the same finesse and nuance. Adapting his work into cinema is a difficult task, but Anjan Dutt did a great job in doing so in his first Byomkesh film, Byomkesh Bakshi (2010).
The story from which the film is adapted is Adim Ripu, i.e., ancient folly. Writing a story based on that theme and flawlessly setting it in post-Independence riot-stricken Kolkata is testament to Bandyopadhyay’s skill. The film succeeds in transporting us to Bengal. I have always marvelled at Abir Chatterjee’s work, and he doesn’t disappoint. He becomes Byomkesh effortlessly, right from his first scene. However, the storyteller of all Byomkesh’s stories, Ajit, makes all the difference. Saswata Chattopadhyay gets into the skin of Ajit with such ease that you never question him or anything he says. It is through Ajit’s monologues that we hear the condition of the Kolkata of that time.
The story starts with Miss Nanibala Roy coming to meet Byomkesh, as she fears for her son’s life. She was a matron in a hospital of Patna where a sex worker had arrived one day. The sex worker was nine months pregnant. She died after giving birth to her child, and the man who came to admit her never returned. Normally, these kids are given to an orphanage, but something about this child didn’t let Nanibala give him away. She raised him on her own, but had no time to educate him. Some years later, a rich businessman named Anadi Halder came to Patna. He had to bind some of his books, and Prabhat, Nanibala’s son, worked in a book-binding company back then. Prabhat’s sincerity in his work had a lasting impression on Anadi, and he adopted him. Nanibala accompanied them and came to Kolkata as Prabhat’s governess. As soon as he came to Kolkata, Anadi’s nephews, Nemai and Netai Haldar wanted their share from their uncle’s property. Nanibala fears they will hurt Prabhat as he is supposed to be the rightful heir to Anadi’s property. The plot thickens when Anadi Halder is murdered. A man with a lot of property in this riot-stricken atmosphere dies without making any will. What follows is a convoluted tale of well fleshed-out characters. Rudranil Ghosh and Swastika Mukherjee, especially, do justice to their roles.
However, the most important character of this story is Kolkata itself. A city which has been revered by many for its versatility, education and culture is reduced to a hotbed of communal tension and barbarism. It doesn’t matter who we grew up with, all that is of any value is your religion. A country which promised a secular framework while being built is burnt everyday in the name of religion and worthless debates as to who started it all.
Is the mystery just about property though? Are there no bigger themes at play? The answer is there are. Shiuli, a bar singer, was Prabhat’s love interest for a long time, but when Anadi Halder went to meet her for Prabhat’s sake, she rejects this relationship. All Shiuli wishes is to dance, sing and act in the movies, but for a woman of that time, all these activities are scandalous. Swastika Mukherjee does a terrific job of humanising this character. It is heartbreaking to see how a woman has to endure the treacherous male gaze all day only because she decides to be different. Anjan Dutt assembles many other able actors to play the supporting roles of Keshto babu (old friend of Anadi), Batul Sardar (the local goon), Nripen (unsatisfied assistant of Anadi Halder), and all of them deliver.
In a world filled with betrayal, dirt, and secrets, it is in the hands of Byomkesh and Ajit to bring some semblance of justice back. Undoubtedly, just as the new Independence Day arrives, Byomkesh ensurees justice is served through truth.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.