If you are a fan of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's stories about Sherlock Holmes then you owe it to yourself to watch the Bollywood crime thriller Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! released in theatres worldwide on 3 April 2015.
The film is based on the early exploits of India’s first "true-blue" detective, created by Bengali bestseller writer Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay who wrote more than 30 stories about the "truth-seeker" Byomkesh Bakshy.
Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! is one of those cinematic treats that reminds you that Bollywood films are no longer just a niche market for Indian audiences. From the set design, to the costumes, to the characters, to the music, to the unfolding mystery, this film presents you with a rich tapestry of sight, sound, and story that draws you in and demands a response. This is a film you won't want to miss.
If you are new to Bollywood, this film is a great introduction to one of India's most popular fictional characters. You may also learn a little bit about the important role of Calcutta during World War II.
Calcutta in 1943
Set in 1943 Calcutta (now Kolkata), a melting pot of cultures. The British still occupy the country yet Indian independence is just a few years in the future. The story of the film takes place Calcutta's Chinatown against the backdrop of the opium trade. According to Shoaib Daniyal:
Kolkata's first Chinatown, situated in the Tiretta Bazar area, had a number of chandukhanas or opium dens. In British India, the business was legal and, in fact, heavily promoted by the Raj for the revenue it bought in. Rudyard Kipling’s first published short story, The Gate Of A Hundred Sorrows, is about an opium den in Lahore, run by a Chinese boot-maker from Kolkata who murdered his wife and took to the drug.
During 1943, the Japanese occupation of nearby Burma lead to an influx of Burmese refugees to Bengal. As Japan tried to occupy South-East Asia, they got as far as Burma before being stopped at the Indian border. But Calcutta was within range of Japanese bombers. The people of Calcutta were subjected to air raids and bombings as Japan tried to disrupt the operations of the port. This was also the year that three million people died in Bengal due to famine.
Hindustan Times describes the setting as:
... a time when Japanese and Chinese agents and smugglers were engaged in covert activities to usurp the city from British control to get a foothold in the Indian and Burmese markets. The locals, caught in the crossfire, are just too tired of the proxy war.
The Story of the Film
In the film, Byomkesh Bakshy (Sushant Singh Rajput) is fresh out of college when he is asked by Ajit Bandyopadhyay (Anand Tiwari) to help him find his missing father, a genius chemist. Bakshy takes the case and finds himself investigating a bigger mystery involving local political leaders, Chinese drug smugglers and the Japanese Army, fighting the war against the British in South-East Asia. Bakshy and Bandyopadhyay find themselves in a world of murder, international political intrigue and seduction as he follows the clues that lead to an evil genius whose actions threatens the security of the world in war-torn Southeast Asia during World War II.
The film is gritty and the murders most foul with plenty of gruesome to go around. There is no sugar-coating the evil that the villain brings to the world around him. Despite this, Byomkesh Bakshy does not shy away from uncovering the truth even if it puts his life at risk. While the film is a period drama, it is presented with modern sensibilities.
The film introduces three main characters of the Byomkesh Bakshy stories.
The Sherlock Holmes-James Watson camaraderie is evident early on as Byomkesh Bakshy and Ajit Bandyopadhyay work together to solve the expanding mystery. In the Byomkesh Bakshy stories it is Ajit Bandyopadhyay who narrates the tales of Bakshy's investigations just as Watson narrates Holmes' stories.
Like Sherlock Holmes, Byomesh Bakshy is a socially-awkward, non-conformist with an abrasive personality. But Bakshy is unlike Holmes in one area. Bakshy is interested in marriage. Despite the attempts at seduction made by the Mata-Hari style dancer and actress Anguri Devi (Swastika Mukherjee) in the film, Bakshy is drawn to Satyawati (Divya Menon) who becomes a regular part of the Byomesh Bakshy stories.
About Byomkesh Bakshy
Stories about this Calcutta detective are a big deal in India. Many films and television adaptations have been made about his character. For Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! director Dibakar Banerjee, the character is bigger than any story or film:
Raymond Chandler once described a detective roughly as a good man in a bad, bad world, hiding his goodness. He is cynical and hard-bitten, who knows how bad this world can be. But the truth is, under all that hard-bitten cynicism and that worldly smirk there lies a hero you may count on story after story, year after year, to do the right thing.
I’m convinced that if Saradindu Bandyopadhyay had written the Byomkesh Bakshy stories today, he would have been taking the metro or checking out the nearest multiplex for clues to catch the murderer. The villain would have worn cargo shorts. And you would have felt the thrill in your bones just as if it was happening to you.
The truth is, a real, convincing detective doing extraordinary things in an ordinary world works in every age.
Byomkesh always, always catches the criminal. He always protects the innocent. He is honest. He stands for truth. He even hates being called a detective. He likes ‘Truth Seeker’ better.
The world in Detective Byomkesh Bakshy is a subtler, smarter variety of the dangerous world - A market lane. A letter. A boarding house. A Chemical Factory. A Film Studio.
Evil and criminal masterminds lurk right out there in the world you thought was so familiar. And when Byomkesh unmasks some devilish criminal right in the midst of his benign neighbours, you shudder harder. Who knew? Who could have thought?
Real people are villains here. People you and I could know easily in our ordinary lives. Yet these very ordinary, real people, unknown to us, are planning something horribly twisted. And Byomkesh’s mind runs faster than light and cuts sharper than a Teflon razor to bring these diabolical criminal to justice.
We need a Byomkesh to set this wrong world right again and again. Because without people like Byomkesh, it’ll be a bad, bad world to live in. It was true in 1943. And it’s true now.
Hopefully, we will be seeing more of Detective Byomkesh Bakshy on the silver screen - the director clearly left the conclusion open for a sequel.
The following playlist features the teaser and trailers for the film Detective Byomkesh Bakshy!
Movie Posters, Photos, and Fan Posters
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