During the peak of the second world war, Japan and Britain are at strategic crossroads for domination over a bustling city ideally situated for trade. With its citizens constantly seeking shelter during those Japanese air raids, Calcutta embraces for yet another battle for control; but over its drug market. Surviving a fierce battle against the Green gang 5 years ago, the mysterious mobster Yang Guang returns to Calcutta with a menacing plan. Meanwhile, a worker in a chemical factory disappears and his concerned son seeks the help from a college associate with a knack for sleuthing. The stakes are profoundly high for author Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay's dhoti-clad detective who made it on Doordarshan and won hearts with his simple, subdued mannerisms and sharpness in wit. Dibakar Banerjee ('Khosla ka ghosla', 'Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!', 'Love Sex aur Dhokha') takes us back in time, all with detailed set pieces, costumes and the victorian elegance of Calcutta, to the origins of 'Detective Byomkesh Bakshy' who will soon deduce that the case of the missing person is actually a convoluted sub-plot of a grand scheme that will affect global domination and drug control.
While investigating the disappearance of Ajit Banerjee's father, Bhuvan Babu, Bakshy ends up at a boarding lodge where the intellectual Doctor Guha (Neeraj Kabi) provides assistance in finding his whereabouts. Upon finding vital contents in Bhuvan Babu's paan box, Byomkesh deduces that he is dead and along with Guha, ends up in a factory that is owned by local politician and chemical businessman Sikdar. The chain of events that are triggered by the discovery of a body in the factory are introduced gradually by the director who takes time to establish the plot and its characters. Throughout these proceedings, he showcases a concentrated effort in making it all look like a period thriller. From Sikdar, we learn about his political rival and rebellious nephew, Sukumar and his sister Satyawati. From them, the plot leads to Watanabe, a Japanese instructor and dentist who is involved in a covert Japanese operation that threatens to attack the city. Then there's the femme fatale in Angoori Devi, who has some darker connections in Calcutta's underworld. We also learn about the addictive element in Bhuvan Babu's paan masala that has the potential to deplete the profitable opium from the market. The opium scarcity and the covert operation have a link that our detective has to deduce and the journey of his investigation takes us on a thrilling ride that isn't necessarily fast-paced. However, the convoluted strands of the plot and some remarkable performances by the character actors against the backdrop of a smoky, bombarded yet charming Calcutta of the 1940s has a mesmerizing effect that engages you till the final moments.
Dibakar Banerjee's directorial style is slick. Cinematographer Nikos Andritsakis and production designer Vanda Kataria reflect the period setting of Calcutta so remarkably that you can't take your eyes away from the details in every scene. There is of course no need for song and dance in such a thriller and so, the director chooses eclectic musicians who featured in events such as NH7 and the result is a modern rock/funk background score that isn't suited to the times but aptly suited to the theme of the noire/detective genre. Akin to the books and the TV show, the theme maintains its simplicity and of course, Arthur Conan Doyle inspired science of deduction.
The big reveal isn't about solving all clues in order to apprehend a villain. It's more about putting all pieces together to understand each cog that was set in motion by the mastermind. The chase itself is our reward and not Byomkesh Bakshy's deduction.
Sushant Singh Rajput is honestly, a surprising revelation. He had some promising roles in the past but none that could exploit his rawness. As an amateur investigator who relies mainly upon clues found on the crime scene and general observations, Bakshy didn't have the distraction of technology and therefore, Sushant's performance required spontaneity, a bit of quirkiness, sometimes arrogance and a lot of resolve for being in Byomkesh's bata shoes. Rajat Kapoor had the finesse and charm of Jeremy Brett who played Sherlock Holmes in the 1980s but Sushant introduces a modern day unpolished brilliance that was introduced by Robert Downey Jr. as Holmes. Even with mediocre financial success, this film is poised to return with Sushant promising yet another impressive show. Swastika Mukherjee as Angoori Devi is truly the femme fatale who knows much more than what she leaves an impression of on Bakshy. Anand Tiwari as Ajit, is a simpleton who gets caught in the affairs of the sleuth's pursuit of truth and most of the time, his expressions of disbelief will draw chuckles in the crowd. Neeraj Kabi's Dr. Guha plays a significant character who is difficult to trust but possesses the convincing powers. He is one solid actor to watch out for in the coming years.
Dibakar Banerjee has put together some vital elements that make up a great thriller. A convoluted yet simple plot that is unraveled gradually through series of events that keep you engaged; the rich set design, costumes, look and feel of Calcutta in a period setting and some exemplary cinematography that captures the city's features as vividly as the countenances of the actors, keeps one's attention in the details. Banerjee has extracted some astounding performances from a lesser known cast of actors who portray their complex characters efficiently. A fresh approach to the background score, dialogues and action sequences leave a unique impression and turn a period novel into thrilling cinema that today's generation can thoroughly enjoy. The film's pace, plot and setting will certainly limit its exposure to the masses but detective stories were never meant to be a money spinning genre. They were meant to provoke cognitive thinking, maintain pace with the detective's deductions, consider the motive, the bigger picture and to always, pursue the truth. Doordarshan and Banerjee did just that.
- 9.17 on a scale of 1-10.