Director: Dibakar Banerjee
Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! starring Sushant Singh Rajput needs patience. But hang in there because ultimately Dibakar Banerjee rewards you with a memorable experience and leaves you wanting more. Sushant Singh Rajput, Neeraj Kabi, Swastika Mukherjee
Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! is a slow-cooked feast. It simmers and thickens and leisurely acquires a rich and long-lasting flavour. The film requires patience. You will have to indulge director Dibakar Banerjee as he indulges himself.
The first half is bewilderingly inert, but you must hang in there. Because ultimately Dibakar rewards you with a memorable experience and leaves you hankering for more.
The film is based on the iconic characters created by Saradindu Bandyopadhyay in 1932. The story is set in pre-Independence Calcutta during World War II. Byomkesh is raw, smart and arrogant enough to do a Bond-like introduction: "Bakshy. Byomkesh Bakshy."
A character says of him: "Mooh kholta hai toh mann karta hai mooh tod doon sale ka."
Byomkesh gets queasy when he sees blood but that doesn't prevent him from investigating murders most foul. And there are bodies everywhere. As Dibakar and co-writer Urmi Juvekar tell it, Calcutta is a cesspool of crime with gang lords, drugs, opium dens, corruption and, naturally, a full-bodied, red-lipped, femme fatale. It's a deliciously dark story and yet, until the interval, it doesn't fully engage. The opening sequence stuns you but then the storytelling goes static. You admire the lush camerawork by Nikos Andritsakis, the soundtrack by Sneha Khanwalkar, the sound design by Allwin Rego and Sanjay Maurya and, most of all, the beautifully detailed production design by Vandana Kataria. Even the stains of the walls of the boarding house where much of the action takes place are artful. Each frame has been painstakingly crafted. But there is no tension in the tangled narrative.
The characters make stilted conversation. There are stray moments of excitement and then the film reverts to its somnambulistic pace. It's singularly humorless. I'm a huge admirer of Dibakar and I have to tell you that, at mid-point, I was really worried.
But slowly the multiple strands come together, the pace picks up and the film climaxes in a bang – what starts out as an innocuous missing-persons case snowballs into a battle for Calcutta itself.
It's fascinating to see Byomkesh evolve as the case does. He sees the heart of darkness and emerges wiser, more mature and, ironically, a tad more joyful. It's a demanding role and Sushant Singh Rajput more than delivers. As does Neeraj Kabi. I also enjoyed Swastika Mukherjee as the sexy and mysterious actress Anguri Devi. I think that name does half the work.
So this one is an acquired taste. If you like your cinema fast and furious, then head to the seventh installment of that franchise. Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! is a film to savour and roll around in your head.