Dibakar’s Byomkesh Bakshy: Connecting History and Regional Literature Seamlessly

Dibakar Banerjee with Byomkesh Bakshy has extracted the gold which lies hidden in our vernacular regional literature, and painting that specific narrative on celluloid for a South Asian and International audience will certainly make it the best phillum of 2015. My father read Feluda and Byomkesh Bakshy’s detective stories as a child in Bolpur-Shantiniketan while growing up, and these were writings which had captured the popular imagination of reading masses of Bengal. Bengali popular literature has detective stories as a legit genre, may be  cultural  loan from its British Colonial Masters. A rich legacy, which the Calcutta film industry has tapped at least for Feluda by Satyajit Ray and his son and now Bakshy by Delhi bread Dibakar who recognises himself more with West Delhi’s Rajender Nagar than Uttarpara in Kolkata as is evident from ‘Oye Lucky’ , a previous production of his. I was greatly moved by his film Shanghai, the first movie i watched in Mumbai after I left Singapore to move back to Mumbai in 2012, where I wrote in a  changethinker.com blog post titled ” Is a DTH Box, Development” :

The cinematic narrative of the Dibakar Banerjee film ‘Shanghai’ played out in real life. Pragati or Development seems to have been relegated to the real estate hardware component rather than human development indicators such as education, healthcare access or employment generation. Special Economic Zones are fantastic instruments to jump start economic activity in an area because of the Tax Holidays, but what about the farmers who sells out his land, has a lot of cash to deploy but does not have the knowledge to invest to properly to diversify his livelihood since he knows nothing else apart from the generational vocation of farming.”

1943 Calcutta’s Wartime Chinatown with the Narcotics Trade and the World War 2 Japanese Campaign in SE Asia connects the local to global beautifully. There is a subplot in the film that captures the naivety of the young in the years leading up to Independence by the capitalist class who were hand in glove with the imperialists, whether the British or the Japanese or even the ruling elite. Dibakar Banerjee’s film making has a socio-political angle, relevant to the times, which makes his films a joy to watch with the thinking cap on. Shanghai, realised in April 2012 had the SEZ Land Acquisition context with the Activist Bengali Liberal Arts Academic played by Prasenjit, the popular Bengali Movie Actor bumped off by the political elite for economic profits while wrapping it in a rhetoric of growth and the entire cover-up of the affair. Excellent film, not so popular as a Salman Khan film, but throughly engaging. Do get the DVD if you liked Byomkesh.

Sushant Singh Rajput as Byomkesh shines without the over acting and Swastika as the actor femme fatale Anguri Devi and  Indian Idol Contestant & Dentist turned Singer-Actor Meiyang Chang as Kanai/Ching Ling have meaty performances. The ensemble cast of popular bengali actors defying the stereotype yet authentic, Chinese and Japanese Actors wielding the sword and knifes add to the artwork. The cinematography deducting the  crime scene chronology is inspired by Sherlock Homes movie part one, where the deconstruction visually is borrowed from in the technical perspective. There is a scene in the film where Patna lad Sushant uses his Bihari Hindi aka Bhojpuri well, which is very genuine. The takeaway dialogue from the movie is : “The lie closest to the truth is very hard to distinguish”. A punchline indeed. Dibakar certainly knows his actors strengths well. 

The stage design and the background score is its true hero capturing the nuance of the times and the energy of the film. Detective Bakshy’s Bête Noire Dr Guha is the  powerful anti hero in true terms. LSD and Shanghai was just the trailer for Dibakar, with Bakshy he has an Asian Sherlock franchise on its hands. Outstanding film making, at its sincere best.

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