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The Byomkesh primer

Why does the dhoti-clad 1930s Bengali detective enthrall filmmakers even today?

brunch Updated: Oct 19, 2013 17:40 IST
Shreya Sethuraman

He’s not a pipe-smoking Englishman. He doesn’t wear long coats or funny caps.

He’s the gentleman next door, the Bengali bhadralok who wears a dhoti kurta (and with age, horn-rimmed glasses and a grey shawl) and occasionally succumbs to a cigarette.

So what’s so special about Byomkesh Bakshi?
He’s astute and he knows it. No, he isn’t cocky, nor does he resort to sarcasm to get his point across, but in actor Rajit Kapur’s words (who’s played Byomkesh), “He’s simple. We were able to reach out to everyone from a five-year-old to an 85-year-old.” He got the scripts of all the 33 episodes in one go and, in his words, “we shot continuously for six months. So it helped since we were so focused.”

But he’s just a detective, right?! He prefers to be known as ‘Satyanveshi’, the seeker of truth.

What kind of mysteries does he solve?
The ones you think no one will ever be able to – a stolen diamond necklace stowed away in a postbox, a sapphire hidden in a prisoner’s throat, an extramarital affair gone wrong, or a poisonous matchstick. The line used by Alfred Hitchcock’s The Three Investigators – we solve anything – perfectly sums up Byomkesh’s crime-solving flair.

Does he have a family?
Byomkesh married a strong-willed woman named Satyavati (who was played by Sukanya Kulkarni in the TV version). She had constant arguments with him about who could have committed the crime in question. So she wasn’t “just another character” – or just a wife. Then there was the detective’s best friend Ajit Banerjee (who wrote about the cases), played by KK Raina. “I was very close to KK and we remain good friends till today,” says Kapur. You may also want to know about Byomkesh Bakshi’s Man Friday Putiram, who made copious quantities of tea and opened and closed the doors for guests.

How does he solve a crime?
He reaches the spot before the police does (though sometimes, they get there before him). He’s meticulous, methodical, has keen powers of observation and perfect judgement. He loves to wait for the culprit in the dark, hiding behind bushes or walls, laying the perfect trap for his prey.

Who is his inspiration?
It’s pretty clear. Saradindu was inspired by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. Why are people so fascinated by the Holmes-Watson collaboration? “Well, it’s tough to answer. I think it’s the level of understanding between the two men,” says Kapur.

If you’re interested...
Doordarshan continues to air the old Byomkesh Bakshi serial. Some crazy fans have set the theme music as their ringtone, and some crazier fans have visiting card holders with Rajit Kapur’s face etched on them! are we talking about?

Byomkesh Bakshi. You might not have read the Bengali stories of writer Saradindu Bandopadhyay’s famed detective, written way back in the 1930s. But you’ve probably seen Basu Chatterjee’s celebrated 33-episode television serial, telecast almost two decades ago, where actor Rajit Kapur played Bakshi. The detective’s best friend and perhaps an accomplice of sorts, was the author Ajit Banerjee, played by theatre veteran KK Raina.

Why are we talking about him?
Bollywood will now attempt the first big film on Byomkesh Bakshi. Said to be director Dibakar Banerjee’s most expensive film, Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! stars Sushant Singh Rajput (of Kai Po Che and Shudh Desi Romance fame) in the lead and should be out next year. This August we saw the release of Bengali film, Satyanveshi, director Rituparno Ghosh’s swan song. It was also director Sujoy Ghosh’s debut as an actor – he played the eponymous hero. Maybe it wasn’t Ghosh’s best film, but the director of Kahaani made an interesting debut as an actor.

Why this renewed interest in Byomkesh Bakshi? Rajit Kapur tries to find an answer: “I guess it has to do with the thriller format. It’s intriguing and exciting. I know the kind of impact the show made back then,” he adds.

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From HT Brunch, October 20

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