The husband and I encouraged the kids to come along with us to watch "Detective Byomkesh Bakshy!" - he's like an Indian Sherlock Holmes - and their interest piqued, they did. Halfway through the film, they were both asleep, and the husband, I could see, was straining to keep awake. Of the four, I alone saw the entire movie, and here I am to tell the tale.
The film is based on Shardindu Chattopadhay's stories. In it, Byomkesh (Singh) is approached by Ajit Banerjee (Tiwari), who's searching for his missing father. Byomkesh initially refuses the case, but later accepts it. A simple missing-persons case turns out to be a whole lot more, involving a number of dead people, the drug-mafia, politicians and the patriotic freedom movement (this was set in 1942).
I have not read Chattopadhay's work but I am a fan of Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot. Both are very different characters, but exude a quirky charisma and a unique peculiarity. I imagine Bakshy too to be a charismatic character, much like them. For film adaptations this quality is doubly important, because I care not for the investigation (and by extension, the film) if I care not for the investigator. Sushant Singh plays Bakshy here, and I find the choice perplexing, because Singh is many things but he is not charismatic. Singh has been made to look swarthier, heavy-jowled and uni-browed, and the end result makes him look like a keen-eyed brown fox. I take him more seriously here than I have in his other movies, but he still doesn't quite light up the screen.
This film is our first introduction to Dibakar Banerjee's detective, so I'd hoped for a better definition of Bakshy's character - who and what he was, and what made him tick. I didn't get that. If you were to ask, post-film, what eccentricities define Bakshy, I wouldn't know. And that's not good, because that lack of detail makes Bakshy forgettable, easily replaced by the next oomph-laden detective that comes along (not that there are too many of those in Bollywood).
I imagine a detective story to be lean and spare and strong, grounded strongly by the strength of the main character and his investigative skills. Here, in an attempt to heighten the drama, bring-in the noir, and jazz up the coolth factor of our detective, the film loses its focus and uniqueness.
The story itself is pretty layered so you have to be paying attention to follow it (a quick trip to the restroom in-between would destroy that). The mystery is intricate and hard-to-unravel, and the film can't do it justice. The plot builds in fits and starts, the action punctuated by wordy, dialog-filled scenes. Bakshy goes about his sleuthing but there is an emotional disconnect - we don't quite feel the impact of the events in the film. Some of the blame has got to go the background score/music, which bangs on in some scenes but doesn't promote the build-up of tension. It is as if I am watching a long-drawn out drama, with quick, uneven spurts of action - something that might have worked for a television series, but that doesn't here.
The film is atmospheric with attention to detail - the sets/production values are strong, and the locales/character appearances are spot-on. But when it comes down to it, this outward veneer can't quite save this wishy-washy film. I am rather disappointed. This is Dibakar Banerjee's weakest film yet.