If you measure director Dibakar Bannerjee’s Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! by the yardsticks — does a viewer guess the culprits easily or the murderer’s intent in a snap — then his whodunit scores high because this isn’t a film that relies on the obvious. Mostly, that’s a good thing because Bollywood mysteries rarely keep the suspense going till the end. But actor Sushant Singh’s tale as an amateur sleuth Byomkesh Bakshy, who is trying to crack the case of a missing chemist, is an exception.
At the same time, your mind boggles at the number of twists and turns. Some of them pack a punch, but some are just convoluted — solely inserted to throw the audience off their tracks.
The film opens in the 1940s Calcutta (now Kolkata) were foreign trade, British rule and Japanese airstrikes in neighbouring Burma (now Myanmar) were the hallmarks of that period. It’s a feast for the eyes and the forces behind Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! have done an outstanding job of re-creating that era. The cobbled streets, the coffee houses and the homes that have seen its fair share of wear and tear add an air of intrigue. While the first half, where a nerdy Anand Tiwari hires Bakshy to solve the mystery of his missing father is engaging, the second half morphs into a larger-than-life problem that doesn’t necessarily fit within an amateur detective’s realm of reality.
Without giving the plot away, it’s suffice to say that the climax — though grand and unnaturally stylish — is a gentle let down. Having said that, director Bannerjee has done a great job of keeping his viewers guessing till the very end. His advice to keep your phone in the bag during the film comes handy, because it helps to be alert to be able to catch up with all that’s rapidly happening on the screen. In short, tweeting will have to wait.
Rajput owns the role of the dhoti-clad, uni-brow detective Bakshy. During the movie, you may forget that he’s an actor who has excelled in those modern guy-next-door romantic comedies. He seems to have immersed himself in the role and hasn’t relied on his charm or his goofy smile to win over fans. His relentless pursuit of the killers and his frustrations when he reaches a dead end are aptly captured. What I loved is that he isn’t portrayed as a superhero here. The scene in which he throws up at the sight of an ant-infested dead body made him instantly endearing. But be warned, it takes some time to warm up to him. The good news is that you have nearly 150 minutes to do so.
Plus, this is a film where the supporting cast has done remarkably well. Whether it’s Swastika Mukherjee, as a beguiling temptress, or Neeraj Kabi as a sharp physician, or actor Tiwari as the adorable sidekick, they have all done their bits to elevate this mystery into an engaging one.
What would have got my vociferous approval is if the ending had lived up to all that promising foreplay. But I wouldn’t write this one off entirely. Give Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! a chance.
Cast: Sushant Singh Rajput, Anand Tiwari, Neeraj Kabi and Swastika Mukherjee
Director: Dibakar Bannerjee
Stars: 3 out of 5