Detective Byomkesh Bakshy: India’s Answer to Sherlock?

I am afraid that at this point, I must disappoint all those who only expected highly serious and philosophical posts on this blog. What might be even more shocking to some is that just two whole months before my exams, I took some time out to watch a film. The film in question? Bollywood’s new sleuth thriller, Detective Byomkesh Bakshy. Though I’ve reviewed a couple of films before here, there won’t be any moralising at the end of this.

The film is set in 1940s Kolkata (Calcutta) during the Second World War, at a time when the Japanese were looking to make inroads into British-ruled India. I feel that the setting and the atmosphere created was one of the strengths of the film, with a highly authentic ambience generated. It is important to remember that like BBC’s Sherlock, Detective Byomkesh Bakshy is a film adaptation of a series of stories, which themselves are set in the same time period, thereby making the atmosphere created highly important. So far, so good.

The plot, also, I feel, deserves some credit. The main story is an attempt by the mysterious Yang Guang, a Japanese drug-smuggler, crime lord and general villain, to allow the Japanese army to enter the city by secret drug-smuggling routes, assassinate the British commissioner Mr. Wilkie, and establish their own control over Kolkata. In he background, there is the suspicious disappearance of mercurial chemist Bhuvan Banerjee, which acts as the catalyst for the unfolding of the plot. As soon as ‘Bakshy Babu’ gets on the case, it is confirmed that Banerjee was murdered, and then shrouded in more mystery, with the unexpected poisoning of Gajanan Sikdaar, a politician who is painted as the first suspect for the crime. Searching for the facts eventually leads the detective to the overall plot, which he unfolds brilliantly at the end.

There are, however, criticisms: many might say that the plot is too complicated for general viewing, which I can sympathise with to a certain extent. In my view, the bigger problem is the tortoise-like pace at which the plot unfolds. By the intermission (presumably inserted by ODEON), Byomkesh Bakshy is nowhere near solving the case, and the second half feels a little rushed. In BBC’s Sherlock, there is a similar sense of not knowing where things are going, but Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat seem to have found a way of making the plot move swiftly on without completely confounding their viewers.

Starting in medias res also doesn’t really make sense to me, because it’s not clear why exactly Ajit Banerjee (son of  Bhuvan Banerjee) goes to Bakshy for advice unless you’ve read the stories. There is far more violence in this film than in the typical CSI: Baker Street, and in my view, it is largely unnecessary. The musical score is best described as shocking. The modern music is completely out of place in such a carefully-crafted setting, and the idea of a compilation of works from different artists has led to a muddled mess that detracts from the atmosphere hugely.

Overall, it’s a disappointing effort. The film ends on a cliffhanger of sorts, with Yang Guang swearing to exact his revenge on Bakshy, which has echoes of the first mention of Moriarty in the Sherlock series. A brilliant idea, but I fear it may prove unfulfilled, as the directors may struggle to get the financial backing for a sequel after an underwhelming first attempt. As mentioned, the only real positives are the setting, the atmosphere, and also the acting performances of Sushant Singh Rajput (although his character – Byomkesh Bakshy himself – appears a little confused at times) and Neeraj Kabi (Dr. Anukul Guha). Quite simply, elementary.

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