Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Byomkesh Pawrbo - A Bengali superhero - no wait super sleuth - to the rescue


Hollywood has a clutch of superheroes. And, Bollywood managed a successful outing with Krishh. (I'm not mentioning Shaktimaan.) But, Bengali cinema has none.

The closest that we have to a superhero is say a Professor Sankhu.

 But, then, the tussle over the Saradindu Bandopadhyay character, Byomkesh Bakshi - by at least two Bengali directors - Anjan Dutt and Arindam Sil - in recent times; a successful yesteryear representation by Uttam Kumar in Satyajit Ray's Chiriyakhana; three not so successful forays - one by Dhritiman Chatterjee, Rituparno Ghosh's out of tune swansong 'Satwyaneshi' based on Chorabali, and a silver screen adaptation of 'Maghno Mainak' which hardly anyone remembers having made it to the halls;  at least three small screen portrayals - Basu Chatterjee's Hindi version and another in Bengali - has given the sleuth somewhat of a superhero status (or so I feel).

In this context, let's talk about the latest outing of Arindam Sil's Byomkesh Pawrbo - based on the story 'Amrit-r Mrityu' (Death of Amrit).

Uttam Kumar in Chiriakhana

Subhrajit Dutta as Byomkesh in Maghno Mainak

Dhritimaan Chatterjee in Sajarur Kanta (The Porcupine's Quill)

Storyline --

The iconic sleuth is asked to investigate rising incidents of arms smuggling in a north Bengal area. There are two murders in a nearby village, that include death of a young mentally challenged boy - Amrit and the dicey villager Sadanand. To top it all, there's a headless ghost on a black horse roaming around the jungles, or so say the villagers. Are all three incidents - smuggling, murders and ghost sightings - linked? How will Byomkesh solve the mystery?

Look and Feel --

For starters, the movie is set in 1948 and this immediately makes it somewhat of a difficult time to replicate. But, I will give some credit to director Arindam Sil for looking into most of the details. However, there are errors, which I'll conveniently overlook.

The next important part, is getting the right setting to ensure that the gap between viewers and readers is narrowed. This, according to me has been a major drawback in case of celluloid representation of major tales. For example, the book talks of a hut located right on the edge of the jungle as the area of conflict. And, I must admit, this is a very difficult part to replicate today.

Anyways, with the story being set in North Bengal, the director of photography should have had no problems in representing the beauty of the place on-screen. That is exactly what he does.

Director Sil also keeps the story crisp except towards the end where he tends to 'lecture' viewers. The little bit of tampering done with the story can be overlooked as it is a cinematic re-look. And most importantly, Byomkesh stories follow a tight start-to-finish flow and established directors like Rituparno Ghosh have faltered when they tried to re-do or alter such sequences.

Sujoy Ghosh in Rituparno Ghosh's Satyanweshi (The Inquisitor)

Now let's come to the acting part. I will start with "other characters" first. Ritwick as Ajit - the sleuth's sidekick biographer; Sohini as Byomkesh's better half; Rajatava, Kaushik Sen, Rudraneel and Subhasis as the other important / pivotal characters play their parts well. Frankly, they are good actors, who do justice to their screen presence. There should be a special mention of Kaushik Sen. He is too good an actor.

Time for the central character - Byomkesh portrayed by Abir Chatterjee.

An Abir-show --

Previously, (Anjan) Dutt, and, now Arindam Sil all have tried to give a human touch to Byomkesh. For example, Dutt is his interpretation of the sleuth shows his marital discord. Sil too accords a similar human touch to the man.In terms of acting or representing the sleuth's mannerisms on screen, Abir does a very good job. I feel, he has brought some amount of acceptability for the character.

Without taking away any credit from any other actor, I must admit that Abir has lent a certain amount of uniqueness to this Bong sleuth, that may be difficult for others to overcome in days ahead.

Abir anyways had the first-mover advantage in essaying the character. Hence, people would tend to identify a character through him, his mannerisms and drawing comparisons giving his reference. Now after the fifth movie (3 movies of Dutt and 2 of Sil) it is safe to say that he will be remembered for being the iconic sleuth. And, I have this feeling because he has worked on himself to suit the character, tried to imagine and essay how a reader would like to view him, and so on. In short, done his homework. (I speak as though I'm the jury member of the Academy Awards.)

Kudos to director Arindam Sil too for not thrusting upon too incomprehensible a character of Byomkesh on the viewer.

Absence of a Background Score --

But there is one thing that I sorely miss. A background score or a linking theme music. Would a Feluda be such iconic without its haunting background score? Remember, how Basu Chatterjee's Byomkesh had an opening and ending music which we still identify with the serial?

In fact, the genius of Ray can be seen where he replaced the need for a theme music / background score (and also in scenes that require the sleuth deep in thought) by showing Byomkesh (Uttam Kumar) playing with his pet python.

Overall, Byomkesh Pawrbo seems to be a pretty well made venture considering modern day limitations and advantages.

There's no point comparing this with previous ventures by the same director or his competition.

Beyond a doubt, Satyajit Ray and Basu Chatterjee's representation of Byomkesh will be etched in long term memory.

  • Rating -- 4 / 5
(All image source - the internet; Byomkesh's theme music and trailer video - from YouTube)

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