Wow, has it been a long time since the Bollywood Queens have blogged or what?! (Also, has this blog post taken forever or what! I saw this movie more than a week ago. Oooops.)
Yeah, so there are a million excuses and reasons why, but I’m just gonna say it’s good to be back, however long this lasts! And that I wish I’d sat down and written a blog post after I saw the WTFery that was Shamitabh.
There was far less WTFery to be had here with Detective Byomkesh Bakshy, though there were, of course, the moments. (The ending. Oh, the ending. But just wait; we’ll get there.)
From the first time we saw the Bakshy trailer, I haven’t seen the bf (hereafter referred to as P) this excited about the release of a movie … possibly ever. And so my education in the history of Byomkesh Bakshi (WITH AN I) began. I got the explainer on the beloved television show and did some investigating on the books that birthed it all. Then P made me watch an episode of the old beloved show, which is on YouTube, in case ya didn’t know it. I couldn’t tell you if the original or the YouTube version was to blame for the shittiest sound quality I’ve ever heard, but I can say it ironically (or perhaps unsurprisingly, since it was first episode) was the same Bakshi story upon which the movie is based.
So, I knew the elements going in. Boarding house. Murder. Drugs. Perspective — good or bad? We shall see. (And knowing all of this, no major spoilers ahead; only warnings of gruesomeness and points on the romances.)
Having watched the original mystery play out (although understanding but half of the volume-challenged TV dialogue), I can say that the new movie lacks some of the panache of the original mystery. Instead of trying to figure out what happened to whom, it gets too deeply enmeshed in war violence, politics and gang vendettas — who is more evil? This would have had to be a thoroughly conscious decision, as the original story in the 1930s would have had nothing at all to do with World War II.
But you should know going in that this “Bakshy” has about a hundred different problems with canon, just from the title — both in spelling and the term “detective”; original Bakshi clearly preferred the nomer Satyanweshi, or “Truth Seeker.” This Bakshi is also not full Bengali — he eats his aloo bhaja with his tea, apparently a no-no, and of course speaks Hindi. Hell, this Bakshi is even from Bihar. He a few times makes a point of noting that he is from Munger, including to a couple of stereotypical Bihari goons (who are hilariously fooled by Bakshi and Dr. Guha’s English — “MARY HAD A LITTLE LAMB!”).
|I still don't understand the unibrow.|
Instead of “Who killed Bhuvan Banerjee and why?” this version of Satyanweshi is “What is this giant plot to destroy all of Calcutta and how can we stop it?” As a result, the movie is structured a lot less like a mystery and a lot more like a thriller. That in and of itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it just made it feel less like Bakshi or Sherlock Holmes and more like a whole other animal.
Overall, I’d say that the movie holds up as a suspense thriller. There are enough bad guys conspiring on multiple fronts to go around, the imminent threat of being bombed to death by the Japanese and enough people being outed as spies for one thing or another. The only downside is that there isn’t really any large twist that drives the suspense home (well, maybe there KIND OF is if you haven’t seen the original story and know who the bad guy is all along) and that a handful of the smaller twists are poorly executed (like when Bakshi figures out exactly what Bhuvan Banerjee was up to before he died; played incredibly lamely).
And then, of course, there’s the gore. The movie begins and ends with gruesome eye gouging. I’d say the point that really drove home that this wasn’t really a mystery for me was the gruesome, disgustingly gory ending that kind of comes out of nowhere. Dead bodies covered in insects is one thing. Eye-gouging violence is another. AVERT YOUR OWN EYES at the end if you’re at all like me. Haunted me all night!
Ahem. On a lighter, though still slightly peevish note, it’s rare — perhaps even a first — that I suggest a movie should forgo a romance. But after a movie-long fling with a little too sigh-happy actress, Bakshy proposes to the “simple” girl that you pretty much know the whole movie will be his wife (whether because you know her name from the books or just from the way Bakshy asks about her, comments on her, etc). She seems unnecessarily introduced here, in a first movie where Bakshy is just establishing himself as a detective. The movie’s ending (blegh blegh) obviously teases a sequel that could have been ripe for a proper romance and then proposal. What little screen space the honest woman is given, compared with the obvious vamp, isn’t enough to warrant a proposal here.
Sum total, good movie if missing a little zing. Just don’t go in expecting to recognize old Byomkesh Bakshi/y.