Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! – Intricate Plot but No Dazzling Deductions

The main problem with Dibakar Banerjee’s 2015 film Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! is that in the film Byomkesh practically does not do any detecting at all – he does more leg work than brain work. Detectives like Sherlock, Feluda and Byomkesh are special because they are sharp – their powers of deduction take our breath away. Sadly, this is not the case with Dibakar Banerjee’s Byomkesh who is engaged by Ajit Banerjee to trace his missing father. The search for the father leads to a complicated plot where the villain plans to centre his transnational heroin trade in Calcutta and to that nefarious end masterminds a Japanese takeover of the city with the help of gullible anti-British activists.

The entire film passes by as we wait for Byomkesh to dazzle us with his ability to deduce. Will he see through Anukul Guha’s disguise? Will he see through Anguri Devi’s ploys? But no! This Byomkesh requires too much help from others – it is the police commissioner Wilkes who informs him of the existence of the Chinese Green Gang and that Yang Guang is alive. It is the police informer Kanai Dao who leads him to the Green Gang. This Byomkesh also needs a dollop of good fortune – it is sheer chance that the guys at the boarding house mention that the newspaper arrives late every morning –  Byomkesh who lives in that very boarding house never noticed till then!! And it is sheer luck that his ex-girlfriend is now married to a chemist employed in the same Hind Chemicals where Ajit’s missing father had last worked.

Dibakar Banerjee has plucked names from Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay’s classics Satyanweshi and Arthamanartham while completely changing the original characters. Viewers who have already met these characters in Sharadindu Babu’s stories are in the danger of being seriously disconcerted throughout the film. An irritating voice at the back of the head is likely to keep up a steady stream of comments – Oh but Ajit was living in the boarding house and not his father! Oh but Sukumar is an exceptionally intelligent medical student – this gullible activist who falls easy prey to Anukul Guha’s shenanigans could never be Sukumar! Oh but Ashwini Babu was murdered – not a heroin/paan addict. Dibakar Banerjee could have easily avoided these distractions because he had a promising script which would have worked much better if it had Byomkesh interacting with characters that had their own unique names.

However DBB! has its attractions. The Calcutta of the 1940s is carefully recreated and is a treat to watch. The heavy metal music contrasts well with the old-world setting. The introduction of the Green Gang as the sinister mob is really interesting. Not many know about this secret society operating out of Shanghai in the early to mid 20th century, responsible for a range of criminal activities including political assassinations and opium smuggling in South-East Asia. Most importantly, the film recalls the forgotten history of the Japanese bombings of Calcutta towards the end of the World War-II between 1942 and 1944. A detective story conceptualised around those dark and uncertain times of air raids, sirens, death and destruction is definitely worth watching.

Sushant Singh Rajput playing a young Byomkesh to the hilt lifts the film. In the very last scene after a maimed but alive Anukul Guha aka Yang Guang declares his visceral hatred for him, we see Byomkesh standing on the roof watching the dawn coming upon Calcutta. Then he suddenly turns around with an intense expression as if he has just remembered something important – perhaps a piece of unfinished business that needs urgent attention. It is the last scene which is the most memorable of all.