Right from the announcement of the project to the first trailer and till the release of the film, Dibakar Banerjee’s ‘Detective Byomkesh Bakshy’ certainly promised a divided or rather polarized reception. It looked like one of those films that people will either hate or simply swear by! And the inevitable has happened with the release. Audience and critics are as divided and polarized as possible. But curiously, this division is seemingly between audience and critics and NOT AMONG them! A large section of mainstream critics fuelled by the opinion of the so-called elite and pseudo intelligentsia has been celebrating the film and in turn vehemently attacking the audience for their constricted mindset resulting in the lukewarm reception.
To begin with, no film or any work of art for that matter can be read or received without its context. Of course an adaptation can and should differ from the original text. Having a puritan stance about it is not constructive criticism. BUT, the adaptation becoming historically unaware both in terms of its form and content, is unpardonable. Set in 1943, the city of Calcutta, whatever little is visible in between the array of posters and billboards, seems soaked in a warm glow of urban spirit. Where is the turbulence of Quit India Movement? Where is the presence of Allied forces? AND most glaringly where are the horrors of Bengal famine? Instead, the characters are gathered merrily at the dinner table, feasting like there’s no tomorrow. This is not a Bengali hang-up. Fan fiction simply doesn’t make room for this! And the director’s ethnicity, his mother tongue or place of birth is immaterial and irrelevant in this regard.
And this is a flaw with the very conception of the film. And everything else is a downhill ride from there. The characters are half baked at best, most often downright cartoonish. They neither begin nor grow while acting and speaking in clichés throughout the film’s runtime. Much has been said about the production design and art direction. And it is indeed a marvelous set of old Calcutta with painstaking detail and glaring flaws. To spell ‘Shyambazar’ as ‘Shambazar’ is the tip of the ice berg. And furthermore, as set or the art and décor can only be appreciated when it contributes to the overall experience of the film or plays an active role in the narrative. In case of Detective Byomkesh Bakshy, it does neither.
Although trying to make a list of the film’s drawbacks would be a highly redundant job, one cannot help mentioning its complete failure as a text of detective genre. Despite its good versus evil trope, a detective story is like a dark fairy tale where the detective is the dark knight of the story. And most importantly, the triumph of a detective story lies in its sense of economy with which information is dealt out at a steady pace. Between the writing, direction and editing departments, the film gets it as wrong as possible. The core plot is shoved down the audience’s throat in hardly any time and then the film drags along turning from detective to pulp to comic strip to espionage, without a definite focus on any of them. And then finally it starts taking liberties which are way beyond the line of plausibility.
Curiously enough, while much is being said about the hang-ups of Bengali identity regarding the film’s less enthusiastic response among audience, apparently the film’s only achievement is to cater to a fantasy of Bengali “Bhadralok” (literate middle class) image. With the disappearance of leaders like Subhash Bose and Rashbehari Bose and the ‘Quit India’ becoming the movement of the mass instead of the armed revolution led by Bengali youth, 1943 was a time when Bengalis started becoming irrelevant in the National and International Political map. Dibakar Banerjee’s film with its rather despicable oriental imagination, attempts to create a Bengali hero who protected his city and saved the world from falling into a fascist regime. For Banerjee and his writers, that is the redeeming aspect of his bumbling hero known as “Bakshy. Byomkesh Bakshy”. It would have been an exciting factor unless he was already known to the world as “Bond. James Bond”.
Arup Ratan Samajdar