Film Review: BYOMKESH O DURGO ROHOSYO
In this critique, Shoma A. Chatterji, an esteemed Indian film scholar and author, provides an analysis of the film "Byomkesh O Durgo Rohossho," directed by the emerging director Birsa Dasgupta.
Saradindu Bandyopadhyay (30 March 1899 – 22 September 1970) was a Bengali writer. He was also actively involved with Bengali cinema as well as Bollywood. His most famous creation is the fictional detective Byomkesh Bakshi. Byomkesh Bakshi is a legend. He is a fictional private detective created by Saradindu Bandopadhyay. He solves crimes with his mind-reading skills combined with sharp intelligence and skills of observation. The first Byomkesh Bakshi work, Pather Kanta appeared in 1932 but Byomkesh was first introduced to Ajit, his writer-friend, in Satyanweshi, a friendship that remained till the last novel.
Though Bandopadhyay stopped writing Byomkesh stories after writing ten by 1936, the popularity of Byomkesh forced him to write 22 more detective stories after a gap of 15 years. Byomkesh hated the word ‘detective’ attached to his name and created his own title Satyanweshi to explain his main function – a seeker of truth. Byomkesh Bakshi’s popularity spans three generations of Bengalis across the world and two generations of Doordarshan viewers in India. Filmmakers from Basu Chatterjee to Satyajit Ray, Manju Dey to Swapan Ghosal, Rituparno Ghosh to Anjan Dutt have made celluloid and television versions of some Byomkesh story or another. The latest in this bunch who find the charisma of Byomkesh irresistible are Bengali filmmaker Saibal Mitra and Bollywood filmmaker Dibakar Banerjee.
Now, it happens to be the strapping young Birsa Dasgupta who has directed Byomkesh O Durgo Rohossho produced jointly by Dev Entertainment Ventures and Shadow Films and Dev, of course, playing the detective Byomkesh Bakshi. Rukmini Maitra portraying his heavily pregnant wife Satyabati and Ambarish Bhattacharya as Ajit. It is a lavishly produced film with a mythical back story based on the ‘history’ of the family where unnatural deaths, reportedly of snake-bites are killing people one after the other.
The problem with any Byomkesh Bakshi film is that fans of the literary detective already know the entire story having read them several times over including yours truly. This spoils the thrill and the suspense of knowing who the killer is, why he/she has killed, what their back stories are and so on. So, directors try to bring in changes in the original to add some suspense of their own which, if presented convincingly, can appeal to the large Bengali audience to watch yet another Byomkesh Bakshi mystery.
Most of us nourished on a heavy diet of Byomkesh Bakshi mysteries know the mystery of the entire story. But Birsa and his script writers have altered many areas of this very interesting novel without losing out on the core of the murders that were happening at the fort (Durgo) Bymokesh was invited to and he goes along with his heavily pregnant wife Satyabati and his writer-friend Ajit. We are introduced to a different, more action-oriented Byomkesh instead of the original Byomkesh who is more brain than brawn and has a miniscule lab at home to hold his own ‘experiments.’
In this version, the well-muscled “he-man” Byomkesh is invited to solve the mystery of a ghastly murder of a guest by his friend police inspector Purandar Pandey (Shantilal Mukherjee) to come and vist the historical fort owned by Ram Kishore Singha (Rajatava Dutta) who lives in the massive fort with his two wastrel sons, a growing, pretty daughter, son-in-law, manager and other household staff. Byomkesh, Satyabati and Ajit are house-guests of Singha but are given residence at a mansion. Byomkesh has been invited to solve the mysterious murder of Professor Ishan Chandra Majumder (Debesh Chatterjee) who is killed of snakebite while staying as Singha’s guest in the fort. The snakebite is inflicted on the elderly historical researcher and is not a natural snakebite though the area somewhere in Madhya Pradesh, is filled with snakes of all kinds.
Though much of the historian background of the fort (Durgo) is likely to go right over your head, it is Dev who takes you by surprise with his new look and new image. Unlike the traditional Byomkesh who is always dressed in white Dhuti-Panjabi, here, we see him wearing trousers with galoshes to suit the period, looks dashingly handsome and with the glasses, looks and acts differently from his earlier image-acting in most of his other films. He does not have a lab at all firstly because it is not his house and secondly, his detection includes more of actions and fights, somersaults, dishoom-dishooms than brainy action. In some places, when he is quiet and trying to solve the mystery without action, he reminds us very strongly of Uttam Kumar. Really!
Ahit Banerjee who we know as the close friend and companion of Byomkesh as writer of his adventures and mystery-solving stories, is given an image makeover as we neither see him writing anything over the entire film nor reading or referring to anything literary much less intellectual. But this ‘different’ Ajit is turned into a wonderfully different cameo by the actor Ambarish Bhattacharya. The sub-plot of the story of the mendicant who forecasts futures was there in the original novel but is rather blurred in the film and rendered superfluous.
The production design, the cinematography and the music is good but perhaps the projection or the print quality at the theatre was not good enough and this damaged the opening with an intriguing introduction to Byomkesh disguised as Lord Shiva come to capture a foreign smuggler of antique sculptures from an ancient hideout but the red tint is so blurred that the magic of the scene is lost on us. The ambience outdoors and indoors has been chosen and captures so well that it throws up an interesting physical ambience of Nature juxtaposed against the richness of the historical architecture of the old fort.
A few more killings take place and the mystery is finally solved by Byomkesh alone and the culprit is excellent. If one is to mark out the negative points in the film the first is the introductory scene explained above and the second is the terribly coy and cloying performance of Rukmini Maitra as Satyavati as she stands out in stark contrast to the original Satyabati who is low profile but is very intelligent and never once coy. It makes a sharp dent into the image of Satyabati we have been used to. She is beautiful and extremely feminine filled with grace but we have seen her perform much better in her other films. Subhankar Bhar has enriched the film with his brilliant cinematography.
The film is running to packed theatres right across the state of West Bengal which shows that the changes Birsa and his screenplay and dialogue writer Subhendu Das Munshi’s changes made in the original novel have brought a positive response among the mass audiences – those who have read Byomkesh Bakshi and those who haven’t. But my favourite Byomkesh of all times remains Rajit Kapoor in Basu Chatterjee’s Doordarshan serial which are being aired till today.