Throughout the ’90s, the guitar-strumming Anjan Dutt had ruled the music scene in West Bengal with his true blues tunes that were reminiscent of Bob Dylan, and his piercing lyrics that slashed the garb of decorum and exposed the ugly face of society around him, never missing a chance to make a philosophical statement in the process. In the last 17 years of this millennium, however, Dutt has primarily focused on making films. Quite a few of these films have done well at the box office. Some of them have gone on to earn considerable critical acclaim as well. And they have done so because they are essentially good films. His latest offering, Byomkesh O Agnibaan, is not a good film.
Byomkesh O Agnibaan (Byomkesh and the Arrow of Fire) is the sixth film in Dutt’s Byomkesh Bakshi series, featuring the eponymous detective or ‘satyanweshi’ (truth seeker), created by veteran Bengali writer Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay. When a mysterious guest comes visiting Byomkesh Bakshi, and leaves behind a strange matchbox, the detective realises that he is being sent a message. Meanwhile a matchbox laced with a highly toxic chemical goes missing from police inventory. The story then moves back to an earlier case that Byomkesh had handled several years ago — one in which a young woman was found dead with a matchbox in her hand. As Byomkesh goes after the mysterious visitor, the earlier case is narrated in flashback, until the film’s climax reveals the villain.
The adaptation of Byomkesh Bakshi has been assayed by several eminent filmmakers for both the silver screen as well as television — including names such as Satyajit Ray and Basu Chatterjee. In Dutt’s latest outing, Bengali actor Jisshu Sengupta portrays the sleuth. In adapting a popular classic such as this, it is of utmost importance that the actor looks the part. But while Ray’s Uttam Kumar had the king charm that made audiences readily accept him as the sleuth, or Chatterjee’s Rajit Kapoor had the quintessential Bengali bhadralok look that made him pull off the role with admirable finesse, Sengupta simply does not work as Byomkesh Bakshi — at all. His untimed humour misses all the marks. His analysis isn’t convincing enough. He does not show those little ‘sparks’ of intelligence and wisdom — so essential to Byomkesh. And that’s just the beginning of the problem.
As described before, the film is a merged adaptation of two Byomkesh adventures — with the stories being narrated in two separate timelines, one in the present, the other in flashback. As ambitious as such an exercise is, the efforts are half-baked, to say the least, and the result is a confounding confusion of who is who and what on earth is going on — even to those who have read both the original stories several times. In the ensuing confusion, the one who suffers the most is the poor viewer, who sits through a cacophony of shootouts, chases, action sequences and unnecessary set pieces that produce a jarring effect while trying to look ‘cool’. The makers of the film have tried to give the film a noir look, and while to their credit, this effort does work in places, it does very little to help the soul of the film – the story. The writing is lazy, the humour coming in all the wrong places and the other emotions not looking real at all.
In fact, some of the film’s funniest moments are unintentional, for instance during a scene where Swastika Mukherjee’s character tries to seduce Byomkesh Bakshi, or in another scene towards the end of the film where Byomkesh and the antagonist sit down at a club after shooting each other — the two grimacing in pain and still offering the other a chance to speak. These are times which make one cringe and laugh at the same time. Throughout the rest of the film, there is not a single moment of respite from the frightfully shoddy storytelling and the astonishingly terrible cinematic experience. The greatest waste of the film, however, is in the total failure of the director in trying to extract a convincing performance from the otherwise brilliant actor Saswata Chatterjee, as Byomkesh Bakshi’s dear friend and sidekick Ajit. What a terrible waste of talent!