BOMKESH BAKSHI is a 2010 Bengali film directed by Anjan Dutta starring Abir Chatterjee, Saswata Chatterjee, Biswajit Chakraborty, Phalguni Chatterjee, Swastika Mukherjee, Chandan Sen and others. Byomkesh Bakshi is a must watch for all and an excellent work by Anjan Dutta.
Review: BOMKESH BAKSHI – VERY GOOD
Cast and Crew:
- Produced and Presented by: Shibaji Panja and Kaustubh Roy
- Banner: R.P. Techvision India Pvt. Ltd.
- Direction: Anjan Dutt
- Cinematography: Indraneel Mukherjee
- Art Direction: Gautam Basu
- Editing: Arghya Kamal Mitra
- Cast: Abir Chatterjee, Saswata Chatterjee, Biswajit Chakraborty, Phalguni Chatterjee, Swastika Mukherjee, Chandan Sen, Kalyan Chatterjee, Swagata Mukherjee, Ushashie Chakraborty, Pijush Ganguly.
- Release date: 13th August, 2010
- Rating: 8/10
Saradindu Bandopadhyay is an outstanding pillar of Bengali literature though he spent most of his creative life outside Bengal. He created the best Bengali sleuth ever in the name and style of Bomkesh Bakshi whose charisma refuses to fade across three generations of Bengalis. He wrote 33 detective stories with the same detective and his friend-cum-alter-ego Ajit, who is both narrator and writer of all his detective case histories. Basu Chatterjee’s Bomkesh series in Hindi starring Rajit Kapoor as the detective was very popular. Satyajt Ray made Chiriakhana (1967) based on a Bomkesh murder mystery in which Uttam Kumar played the only Bomkesh Bakshi for screen in his entire career and won the first National Award for the Best Actor. Bomkesh was born in 1932 and his career ended in 1969. Sandip Ray made a television series on Bomkesh Bakshi stories. Swapan Ghosal made another one and there is a third episodic serial on the same sleuth for another Bengali channel.
Adim Ripu is about the murder of Anadi Babu (Biswajit Chakraborty), a wealthy but ill-mannered and lecherous, aged man who lives in an old mansion. He is shot from behind as he stands on one of the long balconies of his house watching the fireworks in the compound below. Bomkesh Bakshi (Abir Chatterjee) steps in to solve the murder. Everyone who lives in this house is suspect. Anadi’s two nephews Nimai and Nitai who stay separately, and were threatening him for their share of his ill-gotten wealth are also suspects. Sometime later, Anandi Babu’s friend-turned blackmailer (Kalyan Chatterjee) who is forever drunk, is also killed in a dark alley. Thanks to the telepathic and real bonding between Bomkesh and his alter-ego Ajit (Saswata Chatterjee), they traverse the labyrinthine alleys of strange characters, their interaction and incidents against the backdrop of the communal riots of 1963 in Calcutta, the two murders are solved but with a twist in the tale that is not a happy one.
The film opens on a violent scene of arson ending capturing the killing of one man by another (away from the frame) when some parts of Kolkata seem to be under severe communal tension. Dutt has brought forward the time setting from 1947 to 1963 to offer the audience a glimpse of the Calcutta that existed during that time where Park Street was agog with the songs of a hotel singer Shiuli (Swastika Chatterjee), where Bantul (Chandan Sen) sells everything that should not be sold in the open from firearms to drugs, where even small publishers and book shop dealers knew everything about authors and writers, never mind the tension-filled backdrop of firing, stabbing and arson.
The characterizations throw up a rainbow of colours, or, perhaps a prism through which you see a world of the Sixties you have never seen before. Nonibala Das (Swagata Mukherjee) who approaches Bomkesh in the beginning is a complex character with dark shades. She tries to keep to herself and is fiercely protective of her adopted son Prabhat (Rudraneel Ghosh) who was also adopted by Anadi Babu later who got him trained in book binding and in opening a book shop. Keshta (Kalyan Chatterjee), Nripen (Orindol Bagchi), the so-called secretary of Anadi Babu, Gadananda (Pijush Ganguly) Shiuli’s boyfriend are a virtual medley of characters drawn as if, out of a magician’s hat. Bomkesh deals with each one of them with his slick detecting skills dominated more by his ability to read into the minds of the characters than with the detailed physical observation powers of Sherlock Holmes.
Abir Chatterjee in his first single-hero role after an okay debut in Cross Connection brings across Bomkesh with the restraint, the subtle arrogance, the dignity that matches the original or perhaps improves upon it. Like his literary parallel, he is middle-class, sharp, full of ready wit and poetry, and unlike most detectives in literature, is not eccentric. Saswata Chatterjee is the perfect foil as Ajit, the narrator-cum-friend who often voices his exasperation for Bomkesh playing his cards close to his chest. Dutt has the uncanny directorial talent of bringing out the best in very good actors whose potential is not explored properly. Kalyan Chatterjee as the alcoholic blackmailer Keshta is brilliant and so is Chandan Sen as Bantul, the dealer in illicit goods. Pijush Ganguly portrays Gadananda completely against his usual image. Swastika as the hotel crooner looks beautiful and pulls off her arrogant irreverence very well indeed. Biswajit Chakraborty has very little to do. Swagata Mukherjee as Nonibala invests the character with the right degree of masculinity, shrewd calculation mixed with the mother’s blindness to her child’s mistakes. The two women characters are very strong, aggressive and complex. Phalguni Chatterjee as the opportunistic lawyer who changes colour like a chameleon is a wonderful cameo. But it is Rudraneel Ghosh who steals the film from the other characters and runs away with the credit. Prabhat is timid, diffident, knowledgeable and intelligent but apologetic about his standing in Anadi Babu’s household. He continues to surprise us with his brilliant versatility in every film. He defies every rule in the book of the conventional screen hero with his very unconventional looks and lack of height by undercutting these with his mind-blowing histrionics.
With Dutt who is also actor, singer, composer and lyric writer at the helm and his son Neel scoring the music, it must have been difficult to resist the temptation to fill the scenario with a melodious background score and songs galore. But he evinces incredible control by using music very sparingly, thoughtfully and fittingly from beginning to end. The music is just there, unobtrusive yet making its mood-centric presence felt as a subtle layer to the proceedings in the foreground.
Gautam Basu’s art direction and Indraneel Mukherjee’s cinematography are the other high points of the film captured on location against the backdrop of the communal riots with fire raging in some pockets of Calcutta where Bomkesh and Ajit negotiate the lanes with care and caution and which snatches the life of Keshta. The skyline is mostly orange while the indoor shots of Bomkesh’s home gleams with the polish of wood, a photograph here, a wall-hanging there, with Bomkesh smoking from time to time and looking solemnly through his black-framed glasses, an addition to the screen character not there in the original. Anadi Babu’s spacious home is probably shot in Kolkata’s Laha Bari. The lighting is outstanding, capturing the shadows of the night in the Park Street hotel where Bomkesh and Ajit are shown out of focus in the background as the camera and the bright light zooms on Shiuli’s face and body. The long shots of Anadi and Keshta running away along the railway tracks in the flashback are good because they are crisp and short. Arghya Kamal Mitra’s editing takes care of the rest. You see a Calcutta you have either not seen or have forgotten about – the cinema posters on the walls, the music streaming through, the old, black instrument called the telephone with its age-old ring tone in a world where the cell phone did not exist, Nonibala’s starched Bengali cotton saris worn just right, her Conan Doyle left open on her desk, Bomkesh and Ajit’s spotless white kurta-pyjamas juxtaposed against the printed shirts of Bantul and Gadananda, Swastika’s sultry make-up and hairdo, the works.
There is one grouse though. The scene showing the interaction between Bomkesh who suddenly meets a Muslim friend from school ready for the kill is uncalled for. Dutt also embarks on the Hindu-Muslim issue at places to fit into the turbulent backdrop and time but visuals and the sound design are so ambient and fitting that such intrusions are redundant.
Bomkesh Bakshi is perhaps Anjan Dutt’s most finished and sophisticated production till date. He deserves kudos for placing a challenging Saradindu classic on film. Bengali cinema is not well known for films made in the detective genre that keeps the audience hooked from beginning to end. Bomkesh Bakshi is different. The entire Bengali audience spanning two generations, have either read the story or watched a televised version of the story or heard it from someone else. Yet, not once do you feel the predictability washing over you because you know who did it.
by Shoma A. Chatterji