BOMKESH BAKSHI in Bengali Film-from Satyajit Ray to Anjan Dutt

Bomkesh Bakshi -Abir Chatterjee and Saswata
Bomkesh Bakshi -Abir Chatterjee and Saswata

December 25, 2010 (Kolkata, Calcutta Tube): The famous detective BOMKESH BAKSHI is finally traveling to North America as Databazaar Media Ventures distributing the Anjan Dutt’s latest Film over Amazon, Netflix, Roku streaming and at various retail stores. DMV has also acquired the latest FELUDA film by Sandip Ray. Bengali film has truly become global and LEGALLY available to millions of movie lovers.

Bomkesh Bakshi is a legend. He is a fictional private detective created by littérateur Saradindu Bandopadhyay. Bandopadhyay is an outstanding pillar of Bengali literature. 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. Bomkesh solves crimes with his mind-reading skills combined with sharp intelligence and skills of observation. Unlike the classical detective, Bomkesh is middle-class, educated and intelligent. His detective work is his sole means of livelihood. Unlike literary detectives like Hercule Poirot who grows cabbages, he is not eccentric either. Though Bandopadhyay stopped writing Bomkesh stories after having written ten by 1936, the popularity of Bomkesh forced him to resurrect the detective and write 22 more after a gap of 15 years. Bomkesh Bakshi has stood the test of time. Bomkesh’s friend-cum-alter-ego Ajit Bandopadhyay is both narrator and writer of his detective case histories.

Satyajit Ray made Chiriakhana (1967) based on a Bomkesh murder mystery in which Uttam Kumar played Bomkesh Bakshi once in his career and won the first National Award for the Best Actor. Uttam Kumar brought life to Bomkesh with his usual screen charisma without permitting his glamorous aura to overshadow the Saradindu creation. He wore disguises like Bomkesh often donned during the process of investigation and his performance stood out for his humane way of treating characters trapped in a no-exit situation. Ray requested veteran film director Sushil Majumdar to portray a brief role in the film. Ray made some changes to the original story but Basu Chatterjee remained rigidly loyal to the literary source including the production design that stuck to the furniture of the time when the works were written. Chatterjee’s Bomkesh series in Hindi starring Rajit Kapoor as the detective was very popular and often has repeat telecasts on one DD channel or another. Anjan Dutt has remained loyal to the original except taking cinematic liberties with the time setting. The story is set in 1947 but Dutt has brought it forward to 1963. 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. Bomkesh stories are so detailed in description, characterization and incidents that the filmmaker does not have to work too hard on the screenplay.

Bomkesh fell in love with Satyavati, his wife, in Arthamanartham. The romance remains away from the written page. Ajit is surprised when at the end of the mystery, Bomkesh surprises him by springing her as his bride. Ajit recognises the beautiful Satyavati as one of the suspects they had met who was later cleard. Saradindu relegates Satyavati to the marginal role of the traditional Bengali wife who does little but cook, fetch, clean and carry for the family comprised of husband and Ajit helped by the old family retinue Putiram. Sometimes, an occasional comment of hers actually helps Bomkesh in solving a mystery.

Though Saradindu was deeply influenced by Western literary detectives created by Arthur Conan Doyle to Agatha Christie to G.K. Chesterton, he took care to shape and mould Bomkesh as a true-blooded, hard-core, intellectual and slightly arrogant Bengali. Ajit Bandopadhyay, a bachelor, who stayed with Bomkesh after the two met for the first time in Sattaneshi which turned into a popular acronym for Bomkesh.  He wears the Bengali traditional attire of dhuti-panjabi, smokes a great deal and generously dots his lines with quotes from Bengali literature, poetry, nursery rhymes, etc. The biggest attraction that sustains the popularity of Bomkesh Bakshi’s character among Bengalis across generations and geography is his Bengali identity.

Shoma A. Chatterji

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