The exclamation mark suffixed to the title is not out of place. Detective Byomkesh Bakshy!, produced by Yash Raj Films, is a marvel all right!
It is well known that Dibakar Banerjee?s new film is loosely adapted from stories and characters drawn from the intriguing world of Bengali litterateur Saradindu Bandyopadhyay?s fictional detective.
What isn?t known, however, not at least until one has seen the film, is that it is farther removed from a Bollywood entertainer than any YRF production has ever been.
In the manner in which it is structured and paced, Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! breaks most of the boundaries of the genre as we know it in India.
No matter what quibbles we might have about its two-and-a-half-hour runtime and somewhat ponderous nature, there can be no denying that this thriller bears the signature of a remarkable craftsman.
It is a slow-burning crime drama that follows Byomkesh Bakshy as he makes his first tentative forays as a private investigator in World War II era Kolkata.
It is a veritable minefield that the young man steps upon. Every frame that Banerjee and cinematographer Nikos Andritsakis compose exudes the darkness and danger that surround Byomkesh and the city.
Amid blackouts and air raid sirens that warn of impeding Japanese bombings, Byomkesh probes the disappearance of college mate Ajit Banerjee?s chemist dad.
The search pushes him deep into an underworld peopled not just by shady locals but also by members of Shanghai?s ?green gang? of drug peddlers.
As Byomkesh scrambles to save face as one red herring after another leads him astray, he stumbles upon a grand and evil conspiracy that goes well beyond the activities of petty criminals and into the domain of a crooked villain who is plotting to conquer Kolkata with the help of the Japanese army.
There are twists and turns galore as the tyro sleuth struggles to come to grips with the enormity of the task ahead of him.
The screenplay (Urmi Juvekar and Dibakar Banerjee) spells out nothing in black and white, making the exercise of grasping the shadowy goings-on all the more riveting.
The directorial style is elegantly understated, with even the most strikingly dramatic and bloody moments handled with restraint and finesse.
The narrative, unlike the style of average Bollywood genre flicks, is nuanced and demands unwavering attention from the audience.
Sach ke aas-paas wala jhooth pakadna mushkil hota (lies that hover around the truth are difficult to spot), the protagonist says.
In the climactic sequence, the villain taunts the hero: sach ka rang dekha hai (have you seen the colour of truth)? Laal (red), he answers the question himself, pointing to the blood that he has just drawn.
Half-truths and disguised falsehoods are strewn across the film?s narrative, and the way they are unravelled one bit at a time gives Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! its unusual, unhurried rhythm.
The casting is apt. From Sushant Singh Rajput, Anand Tiwari and Neeraj Kabi ? they handle the three pivotal roles ? the director extracts gestures that ring true, lines that sound real and actions that hit home.
Swastika Mukherjee, cast as a femme fatale who steams up the story with her presence, and debutante Divya Menon in the role of a girl who Byomkesh is drawn towards, have more than just decorative value.
Many of the other artistic choices that Dibakar Banerjee makes are also felicitous. Among them is the decision not to pepper the dialogue with Bengali words.
Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! is a Hindi film set in a Bengali milieu but it resists the temptation to go overboard with the linguistic and culture flavours of the locale in a bid for overstretched authenticity.
What the production design team gets absolutely right is the 1940s aura, with the Kolkata street scenes being particularly dazzling. The cars, trams, billboards and attires transport the audience to a different era and add to the impact of the film.
The film also plays with contrasts to great effect. The characters wear desi outfits of the period, but stylistically the film has the look and feel of a modern international thriller.
The eclectic background score composed of contemporary songs and sounds that sound anachronistic but enhance the visuals.
Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! is a cinematic delight that deserves a sustained run in the multiplexes.