It was easy to be excited about this one. A film about a Bengali detective set in 1940s Calcutta. A director who inspires trust about being able to do justice to it. And YRF's big bucks. Were we finally to have a big fun franchise film which was also smart (in other words, not Dhoom or Golmaal)?
Because Byomkesh is just the reverse. It is a smart smart film which is also loads of fun.
Admittedly, the film had me very early (even before the fantastic credit sequence). We meet Byomkesh while he is playing chess in his college common room. Banerjee doesn't show us his face for almost a minute. And we start expecting a proper hero-esque build-up. But when the detective's face is finally revealed, it is completely devoid of fuss. I remember while watching Sherlock, how I knew I would love the show the moment they started playing *this-is-the-hero-and-he-is-awesome* music after Sherlock introduces himself to John. The makers had respect for Holmes (and filmy traditions), it showed. Byomkesh shows how a muted entry can also work wonders.
Like most good films, Byomkesh moves at a measured pace, giving the viewer time to get to know and like the protagonist and the other lovingly etched characters (especially the brawny sidekick Ajit, and the kindly Doctor-landlord) . Yet, the scenes and the sets were crammed with so many details, it became difficult to take my eyes or mind off. Like the reference to Bata shoes. Or the ex girlfriend's husband. Or the real life temptress playing demure roles in the movies. Or the codes designed to tell whether the other person was a cop.
Also if you ever needed proof to know that an arty-looking film need not be boring-it is Byomkesh with its fantastical, crazy plot. Some reviewers I read, were not satisfied with the whodunnit aspect of Byomkesh. Which though true, leads me to believe that they have only read Agatha Christie in classic detective fiction. Indian writers like Satyajit Ray (and presumably Saradindu who I haven't read, to be honest) were however inspired by Arthur Conan Doyle's Holmes (and there is a reference to this in the film) where the emphasis was more on action and adventure. The plots themselves were sometimes outlandish and sometimes plain mediocre. Which in cinematic adaptations at least, does not make a difference. If anything, Dibakar Banerjee's adaptation adheres fastidiously to the spirit of these traditions. Hence it is misguided to criticize the film's writers for succeeding at something they set out to do.
My only worry is that the less than spectacular commercial performance of the film is going to shelve the sequel that was so tantalizingly promised to us as a post-script to the film. If you are the kind of person who bitches about the Dhoom and the Golmaals that Bollywood produces, and still did not watch this one, I hope you are sorry.