Some time back, I read a piece about a gentleman who is the executor of Saradindu Bandopadhyay’s (creator of Byomkesh Bakshi) estate and is the single-point of contact for anyone wanting to buy rights – cinema, TV, translation – for the author’s works. He explained in great detail how Byomkesh is probably the most popular series in Bengali, with scores of filmmakers wanting to procure rights. He, in turn, had to balance monetary considerations with long term prospects in order to decide whom to give rights to. This was around the time Detective Byomkesh Bakshy had released and just prior to that, Yash Raj Films had bought the Hindi rights for all the Byomkesh stories.
After Satyajit Ray first brought Byomkesh to screen, there was a fair bit of diffidence in attempting another one – probably because the director and the star who played the Satyanweshi (Uttam Kumar) were both legendary. This jinx was broken when Rajit Kapoor played Byomkesh in the now-legendary TV series directed by Basu Chatterjee.
In the last ten years or so, there has been a slew of Byomkesh films in Bengali. Many directors – including Rituparno Ghosh – have tried their hands with varying degrees of (commercial) success. The present generation of Bengalis don’t have that sense of awe about Uttam Kumar as the previous generations did, leading to a fair bit of acceptance of the screen Byomkeshes. Abir Chatterjee – with his intelligent eyes and sharp features – looks a lot like the sleuth of our imagination and seems to be here to stay. (Incidentally, he also plays Feluda thus proving that his kind of looks is eminently suitable for iconic detectives.)
Anyway, the point of this whole random Byomkeshing is – in my humble opinion – the rather pointlessness of these Byomkesh remakes. Having come out of books that have been read hundreds of times by fans, they don’t stand a chance in matching up to our imagination.
I just watched Har Har Byomkesh (based on the story Bahni Patanga) and it was a film without complaints and without any memorability whatsoever. One of the key characters is a woman for whom ‘dazzling beauty’ is an understatement. The actress cast is just another beauty, who doesn’t seem like the type who would drive people around her crazy with her looks. Even Satyabati and Ajit are competent actors, meet their brief and yet, they are nothing what I (and millions others) had imagined. While the film recreates the period of the story well, it nevertheless gives a feeling of déjà vu that then gives way to boredom. We have seen this character so many times and similar settings… where is the punch? Where is the suspense (since we know the ending anyway)? If the idea is too hook youngsters who haven’t read Byomkesh, they are unlikely to get attracted by a slow-moving period drama with somewhat amateurish action and barely-passes-master art direction.
This is why I am more impressed by a film like Detective Byomkesh Bakshy… a film that throws the languid pace and leisurely mood-building of the original stories to the winds and presents the intellectual ‘seeker of truth’ as an action hero. It also eschews the regular stories, takes the major characters and creates a pastiche that keeps everyone guessing. Dibakar Banerjee’s Byomkesh had the purists fuming but at least, I thought it presented Byomkesh in a never-before avatar and a lavish scale that would bring many new fans to the fold.
Sure, Saradindu never wanted his Byomkesh to be a ‘detective’ (and that offending word is enshrined in the film’s title) but then again, Saradindu never imagined his Byomkesh to be wearing glasses either. (Ever since Uttam Kumar wore a pair in Ray’s film, most actors seems to donning one to play Byomkesh.)
Anyway, to bring this to a closure – Har Har Byomkesh is a mild-mannered film, not unlike one of those side characters in Byomkesh stories who look inconsequential right at the beginning and continue to remain inconsequential throughout.
[Frivolous Footnote: The director is obviously a big fan of Ray. Not satisfied with moving the setting of the film to Varanasi, he has inserted an entire (redundant) sequence that is a replica of a similar scene in Joi Baba Felunath. There are cleverer ways of paying tribute, I’d imagine.]