When National Award-winning actor Rajit Kapur decided to play the role of detective Byomkesh Bakshi (BB), who he describes as “an ordinary man with extraordinary powers of thinking”, little did he know that his life would change forever. Even today, Indian audiences remember Rajit as Byomkesh.
Based on stories created by Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay and directed by Basu Chatterjee, the show aired on Doordarshan for two seasons, one in 1993 and another in 1997. Set in Kolkata, the protagonist of the show, Byomkesh, was the desi version of Sherlock Holmes. He was a soft-spoken astute investigator. Another important character in the show was his friend Ajit, played by KK Raina.
Rajit says the show wasn’t a gamble for him. “The director called me and offered me the role. It was a fantastic one, so I agreed immediately,” he says. The show was different from the others that aired on TV at that time. “What was extraordinary about the experience was that we didn’t shoot BB episode wise; it was shot like a film,” says Rajit, adding that they shot at one location at a time. They first finished shooting all the scenes of Byomkesh’s house, and then went to Kolkata to shoot the other scenes. “Since multiple stories would be shot together at one location, we were constantly changing costumes and makeup. So, the treatment was of a film, and it was later brought together at the editing table. The house, which was Byomkesh’s home on the show, was in Versova, Andheri (W). We spent the whole of May shooting there,” says the actor, adding that shooting the entire show took six months.
Rajit enjoyed the “practical approach of the director”. He says, “I would take notes on my script, because we were jumping scenes and costumes. I was doing episode one and then a scene from episode 12. You have to know your script well enough to go back and forth.” The actor adds that having a bound script with dialogues for all the episodes was helpful.
Rajit worked hard on the character, and delivered the role on screen on the basis of his own interpretation. Following the director’s vision and adding his bit, his portrayal won everyone over. Basu and Rajit loved the simplicity of the character and the narrative. “Byomkesh was a dhoti-kurta clad detective. I learnt how to tie a dhoti. And till today, I know how to do that because of my character. The show became huge. The audience, especially the youth, loved it, as Byomkesh was a relatable person, and not a larger-than-life character. I have never received so much fan mail in my life as I did for the show. Till date, people think of me as Byomkesh. They may not know my name, but they remember the show,” says Rajit.
Apparently, the actor had appointed a person to sort the fan mail, which included invitations, love letters, marriage proposals and requests to solve cases. Rajit’s favourite episode was Cycle Ki Ghanti, which was about a pin in the bell of a cycle, and how a murderer used it to kill people.