Director: Abhirup Ghosh
Writer: Rajarshi Das Bhowmick
Cast: Rajatava Dutta, Souman Bose, Anirban Chakrabarti, Kharaj Mukherjee
Streaming on: Hoichoi
Abhirup Ghosh has made films that can be called fantasy, mostly of the supernatural horror sort (Brombhodoitya, Zombiesthaan). Byadh, a new series by him, doesn’t have anything supernatural, but there is a fantastical touch in its world building. Protagonists Kanaichoron (Rajatava Dutta) and Souvik (Souman Bose) belong to the Department of Unusual Cases – a fictional department, as if Hogwarts came to Lalbazar thana. (Fittingly, it’s in the attic, a space for many a flight of whimsy in Bengali culture). Soon, they are trying to figure out serial killings of sparrows in rural Bengal. Again, we are in that quasi fantasy territory – a spin on a real life drop in sparrow population – and the final reveal in this whydunnit takes it further. Even the time period occupies a curious middle ground; it’s 2001 – not contemporary, not exactly period either.
On the other hand, Byadh has all the standard murder mystery tropes – Kanaichoron and Souvik, the junior to his senior, are the classic tag team; they are this close to catching the killer (Anirban Chakraborty), when higher ups play spoilsport, an inevitable plot development in any genre entry worth its salt. The plot mechanics follow the usual beats.
Byadh is based on Rajarshi Das Bhowmik’s “Chorai Hotya Rohoshyo”. I haven’t read it but with its blend of familiarity and strangeness, it sounds like a strong story. Ghosh, who has a knack for the weird, has the good sense to keep it simple, and not overstating its queerness, letting it play like a straightforward police procedural. He adapts it with a seeming neatness and economy, also making imaginative modifications (the Department of Unusual Cases was something that was added, he said in an interview). It is brisk paced but not without mood. And extensive outdoor shots of lush countryside not only adds to the visual richness but also helps override budget constraints.
The casting is half the job done, although I wish he exercised some restraint in directing them. Even someone like Dutta (expectedly good) is not entirely immune to this, hamming it up in a couple of scenes; Bose, a newcomer, is promising. Kharaj turns up as a veteran informer, a sort of legend in the Lalbazar circles, but it’s the casting of the bird expert (played by Anashua Majumdar) that jumped out for me. I don’t know how bird experts are in real life, but I actually began wondering if they got a real one to play herself – an elegant elderly woman with an urbane lilt in her accent who knows everything about sparrows: from Salim Ali’s origin story to them being seen as possible threats for agriculture. She puts things in perspective for the lost cops: ‘A murder is a murder. Whether it is of a human or a bird’. She’s just there for one scene – a very good scene, that takes place under a green canopy, with chirping in the soundtrack – but little things like these go a long way in drawing the viewer in.
Byadh is not without its issues, like a somewhat contrived subplot about a street-dog that lives near Souvik’s house, but the expectations (from any Bengali series) are so low that you are happy to overlook them. Ghosh gets the basics right. It’s told with simplicity and coherence, and sometimes that’s all you are looking for.