Before the release of his film Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! (DBB) director Dibakar Banerjee cautioned that 'purists' may not like the thriller because of the nonconformist reinterpretation of the protagonist - a young Bengali private detective created by the writer Saradindu Bandyopadhyay in 1932.
I'm a self-avowed purist when it comes to detective fiction, and yet, contrary to what Banerjee feels, simply loved and enjoyed the film.
Replete with literary references
Saradindu Bandyopadhyay's first Byomkesh Bakshi story Satyanweshi (The Inquisitor) published in 1932 forms the skeleton of DBB's plot.
The purist might complain that Dibakar Banerjee has deviated considerably from the basic plot of Satyanweshi by twisting a couple of elemental facts-for example, in the story, Byomkesh's Watson, Ajit Bandyopadhyay, is a boarder at the men's hostel where the story unfolds but in the film, it's Ajit's father who stays there. But then, the purist has to rejoice at the fact that DBB's script is infused with moments lifted straight from different Byomkesh Bakshi stories. For example,
Byomkesh's love life has been taken from the 1933 story Arthamanartham (Where There's a Will) and merged sublimely with the main Satyanweshi plot. Just like in the original story, in DBB too Byomkesh saves the brother of his lady love from being falsely implicated in a murder case.
Sushant Singh Rajput as Byomkesh in the film.
Moreover, the last two scenes of DBB which hint at a sequel are rich in literary reference - the villain of Satyanweshi actually returns in Uposonghaar (An Encore for Byomkesh) published in 1935.
In fact, to stretch our imagination a bit, a scene towards the end of the film in which a certain guilty couple embraces after Byomkesh solves the case seems to be meticulously plucked out of the 1953 story Chiriyakhana (The Menagerie), which Satyajit Ray adapted into a film with Uttam Kumar in the lead.
Thus, even though Dibakar Banerjee has interpreted Byomkesh Bakshi in his own way, he has been quite enjoyably and calculatedly honest to the original text, which is a treat for the purist. And, in some ways, this cherry-picking across Byomkesh's cases and re-imagining his life and works is far more exciting than an ordinary page-by-page re-creation.
The time period and new insights
The only problem I had with the BBC series Sherlock, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, was its complete departure from time period set by Arthur Conan Doyle - the underbelly of Victorian London gave away to the iPhones and military research centres of the 21st century.
Benedict Cumberbatch in a still from the BBC TV series Sherlock.
The show became popular primarily because of its fresh take on Holmes and Watson. It moved away from the backdrop in which the detective was originally created and gave him a contemporary identity.
On the other hand, the British TV series Agatha Christie's Poirot, which ran from 1989 to 2013, stuck almost page-by-page to the original narrative written by Agatha Christie, offering no new take on the life of the short, old detective with a military moustache. The end of almost every episode is predictable for someone who has read what Dame Christie wrote.
Thus, is it possible, say, to paint a more insightful portrait of Sherlock Holmes and his collaborator Dr. John Watson in the times they belonged to, without disturbing the raison d'être of the crimes they solved?
DBB makes it seem possible. Dibakar Banerjee plays quite intelligently with the time period and delivers to his audience, amidst other things, a lively and stylish period film. From the minute details of the Kolkata of 1942-43 to the socio-political scenario of the country, the film enlivens all that Saradindu Bandyopadhyay sketched with his words.
Watch Byomkesh Bakshy review: Don’t think of missing even a minute of it
Banerjee doesn't transport his Byomkesh to the modern times. His Byomkesh is where Saradindu's was -- a young guy trying to make a place for himself in the world of crime-solving. And that helps Banerjee in reinterpreting the life and times of the Bengali sleuth and presenting to his audience the world in which Byomkesh functioned. He helps us imagine as clearly as possible what it meant to be a private detective in Kolkata during the Second World War.
"I have been true to the original Saradindu Banerjee's spirit of the material and have tried to portray it with all my honesty," Dibakar Banerjee told The Hindu in a recent interview. To the purist who loves to seep into that time period reading the adventures of 'truth-seeker' Byomkesh Bakshi, Dibakar Banerjee does complete justice.