By Aarti Kapur Singh
Drama in 1942 Calcutta
Straight up, ‘Detective Byomkesh Bakshy’ is possibly India’s best-looking sleuth flick till now. Loosely adapted from Bengali crime fiction writer Saradindu Bandopadhyay’s enduring literary series, the film is intended as the original story of the famous fictional sleuth. Set in 1942 Calcutta, clever Byomkesh (Sushant) is asked by Ajit Banerjee (Anand) to help find his father, Bhuvan babu, who has gone mysteriously missing for months. At Bhuvan’s lodgings, Byomkesh is befriended by doctor Anukul Guha (Neeraj Kabi) and Kanai Dao (Meiyang Chang) who sells opium – in a Calcutta that’s all about intoxicants, smugglers and smoke. Byomkesh finds a trail to Gajanand Sikdar’s chemical factory where sensuous film star Angoori (Swastika) intrigues him, imperious Satyawati (Divya) annoys him, and rebellious Sukumar (Shivam) puzzles him – discovering blackmail, drugs, bodies and bombs, can Byomkesh solve not one but two dangerous plots?
Byomkesh Bakshy is an iconic Bengali character brought to life by Sushant Singh Rajput with great elan – Sushant pulls off a role full of wry liveliness (a Sardarji cabbie nervously noting, “Ye babu ka nut dheela hai”), fitting the character, from flowery dhoti folds to furrowed-forehead frowns, beautifully. He’s matched by dramatic Neeraj Kabi and calm Anand Tiwari who, after a Chinese gang leaves a courtyard strewn with corpses, tells caretaker Putiram (shakily precise Pradipto Kumar Chakrabarty), “Khoon rehne de…bas chai bana de.” ‘Detective Byomkesh Bakshy’, directed by Dibakar Banerjee, is a moody thriller that unravels at an unhurried pace.
Banerjee’s Calcutta is a city of secrets and shadows lurking at every corner. A terrific opening scene – in which mysterious sinister elements show up and thwart an opium deal in the dead of the night – sets the mood for the film’s noir-ish leanings. With World War II currently at its peak, the threat of oncoming Japanese bomber-jets looms large. It is against this landscape that Byomkesh, a recent graduate on the verge of taking up a teaching job, lands his first investigating assignment.
Far from the sure-footed, razor-sharp sleuth of Bandopadhyay’s stories, Byomkesh, in Banerjee’s film, is an amateur investigator slowly coming into his own. ‘Slowly’ is the operative word here, as Banerjee and co-writer Urmi Juvekar spend more or less the entire first hour setting up the plot. Sushant nicely slinks into the part of the unibrowed detective who’s clearly learning on the job. He has a fragile ego, he gets queasy at the sight of blood, and oftentimes he misses clues that are staring him in the face.
Alongside, the look is remarkable – noir cinematography unfurls a Calcutta of jostling shadows and splendid squalour, trams like filigree running across the city, costume balls, dentists’ halls where murders are committed with violent slash.
But the film stretches, scenes between Byomkesh and a slow-talking, slow-smoking, slow-pouting Angoori losing pace. Superfluous characters (wailing wife, dumbstruck ex) make growing tension pop away like the bubbles on Angoori’s bath foam. A chilling climax masterfully ties up the tale – but 30 minutes less would’ve given this detective a much tighter grip.
Still, ‘DBB!’ is a fun watch, presenting another mysterious case – how Sushant still looks good, despite a uni-brow? Go solve!
Meet Swastika aka Anguri Devi
Sushant Singh Rajput’s brilliant performance as detective Byomkesh Bakshy has drawn the public to cinemas, but another has caught everyone’s attention – Swastika Mukherjee as the sexy Anguri Devi. This mysterious lady is being talked about and here are five things you should know about her.
Who is Swastika Mukherjee?
She may be new to the world of Hindi cinema but in Bengal, Swastika is one of the most popular faces on celluloid. The light-eyed actress makes is making her grand Bollywood debut Detective ‘Detective Byomkesh Bakshy’ and has already made heads turn with her striking presence in the film.
The actress, whose father Santu Mukherjee is also an actor in Bengali films and TV serials, began her career in 2003 in ‘Hemanter Pakhi’. In little over a decade, Swastika has managed to work both in commercial and art house cinema. She has starred in Bengali films like ‘Maach, Mishti and More’, ‘Saheb, Bibi, Golaam’ among others, before landing the role in DBB.
About the role
“I was reluctant to consider the role of Anguri Devi, but once I heard it was Dibakar’s film, the excitement grew. I gave my auditions and then waited for a long time. Ultimately, I stopped thinking about it, but then finally after four to five months, I got a call,” she stated to a leading daily.
Married at just 18!
The actress got hitched with singer Pramit Sen, son of Sagar Sen. But after two years together, the couple parted ways. Swastika accused Pramit of ill treating her when she was pregnant, claiming that he abused her physically and threw her out of the house. She filed a case against him for cruelty, which was later dismissed. The actress went on to date actor Parambrata Chatterjee on the sets of her film ‘Brake Fail’; however she was still married to Sen and hadn’t filed for divorce. Pramit then charged Parambrata for adultery and after all this drama, the couple officially split in 2010. Wow, its been a rollercoaster ride for Swastika! The actress is a single mother with a daughter named Anwesha, from her marriage with Pramit.
Self harm state
Swastika was alleged to have attempted suicide last year, post a heated argument with rumoured boyfriend and filmmaker Suman Mukhopadhyay. Reports suggested that the actress inflicted injuries on herself with broken beer bottles at a hotel in which she was staying with Suman at the time. Mukhopadhyay was detained by the police for nearly 22 hours, but there’s no evidence to indicate any wrongdoing no complaint was registered against him.
Touch of kleptomania
Swastika made headlines soon after her suicide attempt, this time for being involved in a case of shoplifting! The actress was reportedly caught in the act at a boutique in Singapore during an ongoing film festival, which she attended with Suman. Sources suggested that the actress was seen lifting a pair of earrings worth US$225. Woah, this beauty has some dark secrets of her own!
Know your Byomkesh Bakshy
Bringing detective Byomkesh Bakshy alive on celluloid was Dibakar Banerjee’s childhood dream, but the director says the project was scary and challenging to tackle. A fan of Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay’s stories since the age of 13, Dibakar said he wanted ‘Detective Byomkesh Bakshy!’ to be his first project, but he is glad that he took over the movie only after gaining experience. However, it was a bewildering experience all the same. “This film was different from anything that has been done before or anything that I have made. We spent sleepless nights agonising over it. It was scary and a different animal and we just wanted to tame it,” admitted Dibakar.
The director, known for his interesting take on contemporary issues in ‘Khosla Ka Ghosla’, ‘Oye Lucky Lucky Oye’ and ‘Shanghai’, set the Sushant Singh Rajput-starrer in the politically volatile era of 1940s Kolkata. Dibakar said that while there were seeds of the time and space in the author’s stories that start from the ’30s and go till ’60s, he picked up the ’40s because it was the most interesting era. “I like the vibe of Calcutta in the ’40s. It was the frontier post of the allied forces, and Japan was trying to attack India through the North-East to capture the port city. There was Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose and the Quit India movement. It was politically a very volatile period,” explained Dibakar. “Calcutta was under the shadow of war. It was a huge sea port for allied forces and like every war there was gangwar, drugs and weapons smuggling. The Bengal famine actually happened because allied forces diverted foodgrains to Greece to feed the army. I wanted all of this for my backdrop,” he added.
So was it difficult to place so many things in the backdrop of the film? Dibakar stated that the era evolves gradually in the movie. “It’s the skill of the writer and director to keep the background and foreground different, but to keep the relation between the two,” said Dibakar. “What happens in ‘Byomkesh’ is that it starts as the backdrop and suddenly you realise that it was the foreground all along. Byomkesh did not know it, and when he realises it, he understands that this mystery is too big to handle for one man,” he added.
The making of the film had its quirks, here are some of them
While shooting for the film, Sushant Singh Rajput looked so much in character that a unit member mistook him for a helper on set. So much so that the crew person even told Sushant to help him with some manual labour. Naturally, he was embarrassed when someone pointed out that the person he was speaking to was in fact, the hero of the film!
Dibakar Banerjee wanted Aamir Khan to play the villain. But Aamir turned down the offer as he was already playing a negative character in ‘Dhoom 3’.
Workshops were conducted for the film’s cast before shooting, so that they could easily adapt to the 1940s environment. Sushant is said to have spent 2-3 months preparing for his role.
Dibakar himself drew Sushant’s pose for the motion poster of the film. Sushant had to run on a long table and leap over the lights. It took three to four attempts before Sushant achieved the exact position Dibakar had drawn.
There is a scene in the film where Byomkesh leaps over the Howrah Bridge and cigarettes fly out of the pack. The illustrators working on the film noticed that the cigarettes used in the scene were not manufactured in the 40s or 50s. The goof was immediately rectified and the cigarettes were given a vintage look.
Since most of the locations that were selected for the shoot were in the central business district, Kolkata police had to change the direction of traffic at various points to ensure that the crew faced no hassles during the shoot.
Known to be the busiest section of VIP Calcutta, BBD Bagh (formerly known as Dalhousie Square) was one of the most challenging locations in which to shoot. The film’s crew took over the whole street, filling it up with vintage cars.
The film was earlier titled ‘Detective Byomkesh Bakshi!’ with an ‘i’ at the end of protagonist’s surname. But Banerjee changed it to Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! replacing ‘i’ with ‘y’. He revealed that this was done to maintain typographical balance. He also said that ‘i’ looked too thin, whereas ‘y’ was a stronger alphabet.
A mobile version game titled ‘Detective Byomkesh Bakshy!: The Game’, has already been launched.