The thing about Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay’s Byomkesh Bakshi is that he is a prototypical figure of the colourful world of Bengali detective fiction. Giving him company in this world is a strapping Charminar-smoking dude (Feluda), and a middle-aged physically challenged kakababu (uncle) who, ironically, hates being called a detective and many other legends. They all fit into their made-to-order niches. That is why, when Dibakar Banerjee decided to make a dhoti-clad Sushant Singh Rajput leap across the Howrah Bridge in the posters of his forthcoming film, Detective Byomkesh Bakshy!, Byomkesh loyalists didn’t pick up cudgels. After all, Bandyopadhyay created Byomkesh Bakshi as an intrepid character, so why not focus on the physicality of a young Byomkesh? But how does one react when Byomkesh is taken from ’40s Calcutta and placed in a high-rise in present day Kolkata?
In his debut Bengali feature film, based on one of the most celebrated Byomkesh Bakshi stories, Sajarur Kanta, director Saibal Mitra does exactly that. “I chose to set this film in contemporary times because I wanted to focus on the social aspects of the story, which are still very relevant. The protagonist of the film, Deepa, is a modern woman who resists the institution of marriage. Then we focus on the issues that crop up when you try to corporatise art,” says Mitra, who has assisted celebrated Bengali filmmaker Goutam Ghose for decades.
Mitra, who plans to release Sajarur Kanta around mid-March in India, has taken another risk. His Byomkesh Bakshi is not a strapping young man, but a distinguished “social scientist” in his 60s, played by Dhritiman Chatterjee. “In Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay’s stories, Byomkesh ages over the years. He is not perennially in his 30s, like say, Feluda. Moreover, Sajarur Kanta was written in the ’60s, which means Byomkesh must have aged considerably if we were to follow the fictional time line,” says Mitra. The film stars Konkona Sen Sharma as the protagonist. “I don’t think anyone else would have done justice to the role. She brings a sense of vulnerability to the character,” says Mitra.
In the last few years, Bengali cinema has seen a spate of detective films, with directors such as Anjan Dutta and the late Rituparno Ghosh interpreting their own Byomkeshs’. The last cinematic adaptation of Bymokesh Bakshi was done by Satyajit Ray in 1967. Why are we returning to Byomkesh now? “Whenever a society is in churning, we look for some intervention. With the Sharada Scam plaguing Bengal, people want to be told that everything will fall into place. A detective fictions starts with order and then there is chaos and eventually order in brought about again. Maybe the Bengali audience wants that assurance,” says Mitra.