Film review: Detective Byomkesh Bakshy!

Thrilling mystery and delightful depiction of 1940s India from Dibakar Banerjee.

Sushant Singh Rajput in Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! Courtesy Yash Raj Films
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Detective Byomkesh Bakshy!

Director: Dibakar Banerjee

Starring: Sushant Singh Rajput, Anand Tiwari, Neeraj Kabi, Swastika Mukherjee

Three stars

Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! marks Dibakar Banerjee's return to the director's chair for the first time since 2013's Bombay Talkies and he yet again proves his multinational award-winning mettle, delivering a complex murder mystery that keeps the audience guessing right to the end.

Set in Calcutta in 1943, the film begins with Byomkesh Bakshy (Sushant Singh Rajput), without a job and a loser in love, deciding to focus his attention on solving the mystery behind the disappearance of the father of Ajit Bandopadhyay (Anand Tiwari). Thus begins a series of events that spiral around Chinese drug lords, the Japanese army and Indian politicians, with Byomkesh in the middle connecting all the dots.

The casting is spot on. ­Rajput’s portrayal of Byomkesh is honest and understated – which suits the plot perfectly. The character’s lack of social skills and his single-minded dedication to solving the case are all excellently portrayed by Rajput.

Tiwari is refreshingly endearing as Ajit – a son worried about the safety of a father he never got along very well with. As the story progresses, the relationship between Byomkesh and Ajit grows – the two forging a bond of friendship that would, in the long-running series of books on which the film is based, last forever – with Ajit becoming the Watson to Byomkesh’s Holmes.

Rajput’s nemesis in the film is Neeraj Kabi, who plays Anukul Guha, a deadly drug dealer masquerading as a landlord. He delivers a standout performance, expertly bringing out the various shades of a multilayered character.

Swastika Mukherjee has a small part, playing the siren Angoori Devi, who tries to throw Byomkesh off-track in his investigation.

However, after a great start, the movie suffers from a weaker second half, losing pace and coherence as the narrative develops. With the investigation progressing well, the narrative introduces a slew of new characters and forced plot twists that leave the audience in a bit of a tangle as they try to keep pace with developments.

This all culminates in a rather dull and somewhat predictable climax that, not surprisingly given the dozens of source novels, leaves the way clear for the possibility of a sequel.

From a technical standpoint, the film is a visual delight. Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! is beautifully filmed and transports viewers to a bygone era that was clouded by the threats of the Second World War and heightened political activity.

The recreation of that era’s Calcutta by the cinematographer Nikos Andritsakis, with its slow trams, busy bazaars, few cars and leftist youth movements, is done in an exquisite manner that is surely making audiences fall in love with the city of joy.

All credit to Dibakar Banerjee, who has created a gripping film that is sure to resonate with the audience.