Sunday, April 05, 2015

Detective Byomkesh Bakshy - Movie Review

Vidit Bhargava
Movie: Detective Byomkesh Bakshy
Director: Dibakar Banerjee
Music: Sneha Khanwalkar, Madboy / Mink and Other Artists
Actors: Shushant Singh Rajput, Anand Tiwary, Divya Menon, Meiyang Chang

The Key to a great Murder Mystery is a well told story and not necessarily a big surprise, some of my favourite Detective fiction mysteries are written beautifully with Murder often being a consequence of a chain of events. Dibakar Banerjee’s Byomkesh Bakshy is a well told story but lacks a surprise element.

Byomkesh Bakshy is a surprisingly fresh take on regular detective movies / shows. A pleasant departure from the tradition of portraying a detective as some one who is extremely observant, infinitely more intelligent than his peers and somewhat invincible (Look no further than Cumberbach’s and Downey Jr.’s portrayal of Sherlock). Banerjee’s Byomkesh is a young amateur enthusiast, vulnerable and prone to making mistakes, He’s not a professional, can hardly be called a detective but learns quickly. Teetering on the thin line between what’s legal and what’s not, Byomkesh’s investigations are based on straight forward questioning, street smart trickery and a bit of trespassing. It’s refreshing to see to see a younger, learning detective. The imperfections in Byomkesh lend an element of adventure to the movie. In a well shot sequence that shows Byomkesh’s inexperience, Straight out of a negotiation from a Chinese Gang, Bakshy reaches out to a British Inspector (Mark Bennington) with a proposal to provide the villain in exchange of a favour, only to be sternly reminded by the inspector that it’s the Calcutta police, not a Chinese Gang.

Set in the 1940s Calcutta (Now Kolkata), the first accomplishment of the movie is perhaps being able to create a beautiful 1940s environment and not go overboard by showing off long shots of the vintage Kolkata. The next accomplishment is the brilliant idea of setting up contemporary characters in a period setting. While the sets give an impression that the movie is set in the colonial times, the language and characters are very much nearer to the present, being instantly relatable. By eliminating a steep on-boarding that a period film with period characters would generally go through, the director spends more time on building up the key characters like Byomkesh Bakshy and Ajit Banerjee. Setting up the plot takes up a lot of time and might appear slow to some but I felt it was quite well done, given that we’re looking at a franchise in the making here and not a one movie series.

Music is a big plus too. Done by Sneha Khanwalker and a bunch of other artists including Madboy / Mink, the soundtrack makes the movie all the more special. It’s one of those soundtracks that you’d buy after watching the movie. Music is key to storytelling and in many ways Khanwalker and team has hit the ball out of the park here.

Good Mystery movies in the recent times have been largely influenced by the Detective fiction written by Agatha Christie or Arthur Conan Doyle. Reema Kagti’s Talaash’s screenplay was largely Agatha Christie-que in nature. Kahaani with the hired Assassin playing a crucial role might have been a little Dan Brown-ish (Not in the bad sense of the word, at all) in it’s dealing with the screenplay. Byomkesh’s screenplay remains largely untouched from such influences, there were odd nods to Conan Doyle and Christie, with the paper cutting threats being straight out of The Hound of Baskervilles, the Poirot style Climax where every suspect is invited to a roundtable meet and Byomkesh starts telling the story, and an incident of strychnine (a favourite drug of Christie) poisoning but apart from that it didn’t seem to be ‘inspired’ by any previous Detective fiction. The style of writing was neither inspired from Christie or Conan Doyle, which is a rather good thing.

But Byomkesh Bakshy isn’t perfect. The lack of a good surprise element is telling. It makes for a rather boring climax, where you already know who the villain is. The big reveal is guessable miles away from the climax and it isn’t something special. This is something that comes of as a surprise to me, as Dibakar Banerjee’s previous thriller Shanghai, featured a very unconventional ending. Having said that the gripping screenplay does cover for that. There’s also a lack of depth to some of the characters, like the inmates of the boarding lodge that Bakshy stays in, except for Chang’s character none of them really have a story to them. Also, the steady pace and a significant lack of action in the first half might irk some, but to be honest, Detective movies aren’t meant to be a barrage of gunfire, they are meant to give you time to sink your teeth in to the story.

Acting for most of the part is fine with Shushant Singh Rajput, Anand Tiwari, Divya Menon and Mark Bennington giving standout performances. Swastika Mukherjee hams it a bit though but given that her role isn’t very big, her acting doesn’t really have a big negative impact on the movie.

Minor issues aside, Detective Byomkesh Bakshy is a solid start to the Byomkesh Series. It’s an unconventional take on the detective fiction genre and is certainly a job well done. I’m already excited about the next in the series. Byomkesh Bakshy is a movie that just can’t be missed.

Rating: **** (Don’t Miss This)