All that is old and classical was once young and brash — Dibakar Banerjee reiterated this line he had read on a monument during a European trip. When he recently dropped in at The Indian Express’s Mumbai office along with actor Sushant Singh Rajput, the writer-director was talking about Byomkesh Bakshi, the fictional Bengali sleuth and the subject of his latest film Detective Byomkesh Bakshy (DBB). “We often mistake anything old for respectability. I have always found Byomkesh to be very modern, pulpy and kickass. The stories had Byomkesh fighting a drug cartel and consulting Sardar Patel on vital matters of security. I’m sure had Sharadindu Banerjee been alive today, he would have written action-packed graphic novels,” said Banerjee.
His latest film, it could be said, is pretty close to those action-packed graphic novels. Set in Calcutta of 1943, the movie sees Byomkesh as a rookie solving his first case as he encounters mysterious Chinese opium dealers, Japanese Samurai fighters and uncovers dangerous secrets hidden in middle-class Bengali neighbourhoods at the time of World War II. Banerjee admitted to getting all kinds of reactions for the movie from viewers — from finding it too fast to grasp all its details to some finding it too expository. “I believe over a period of time people will agree that they have seen something new,” he said.
Banerjee had earlier spoken about how they plan to build a franchise. The collections in the first week have been underwhelming with a lot depending on the film’s run on the second weekend. So is a franchise in the anvil irrespective of the box-office collections? Banerjee assured that Byomkesh’s adventures will continue with the upcoming installments of the series exploring his relationship with his sidekick Ajit, his love interest Satyawati and his arch-nemesis. “The only thing we aren’t sure of is what we can do to top the shock value of the first part,” said the writer-director.
Rajput, who stars in the eponymous role in DBB, said that apart from working in a venture that is an exciting collaboration between Banerjee and Yash Raj Films, it was the legacy of Byomkesh that made him sign the project. “The idea of interpreting the character, after so many actors have done it in the past, was exciting,” he said. The actor was seen sporting a mane for the MS Dhoni biopic, which he believes would be easier to play than Byomkesh. “There are so many visual references of MS, unlike Byomkesh whose character is built on myths,” he said.
Even though, prior to the movie’s release, Banerjee had issued a disclaimer of sorts that Byomkesh purists would be disappointed, the movie has been subjected to a lot of nit-picking. A case in point is the scene where Singh is shown eating potato wedges with tea. This has been a subject of much social media discussion. “It was originally supposed to be the aloo chips that students with less money at that time would eat with tea in Calcutta’s coffee houses. But the food had to portray the state of Byomkesh’s mind as he had just been dumped by a girl. To find some peace, he plunges his fork into the wonderfully half moon-shaped potato wedges,” says Banerjee.