Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! convincingly recreates 1940s Calcutta, often using authentic locations
Bannerjee has moved Bakshy's first big case forward to 1943, at a time when Japan was bombing Calcutta (now Kolkata) where the story is set, and where nationalists, inspired by Mahatma Gandhi and other leaders, were agitating for independence from the British Empire. The story starts in indisputably pulpy fashion when hooded killers interrupt a drug deal. Bakshy (Sushant Singh Rajput) takes on an apparently unrelated case: Ajit Bannerjee (Anand Tiwari) wants to know where his father, a chemist, has disappeared to -- and he doesn't want to hear any theories about his dad being a criminal. When we first see Ajit, he says that Byomkesh looks like someone you'd like to punch in the face, and before the scene is over he's done just that. Like any private eye worth his salt, Bakshy takes a beating over the course of the convoluted story. Despite Ajit's feelings, Byomkesh learns from fellow tenants at the father's boarding house that the chemist apparently was blackmailing his boss, a factory owner involved with a Bengali nationalist party who faces a schism led by his own son. When Bakshi and his new friend Dr. Guha (Neeraj Kabi), the man who runs the boarding house, find the chemist's body, the factory owner becomes the prime suspect in an apparent murder. But when he drops dead, apparently poisoned, in Byomkesh's presence, after gasping out the last words "young gang," or something like that, all bets are off.
Above, Bakshy makes a disgusting discovery.
Below, Byomkesh turns to mysteriously enhanced betel leaves in an attempt to visualize the mystery.
Byomkesh soon learns that he's been manipulated with false leads by Dr. Guha himself, but it may be for a higher good. Guha shares the nationalist aspirations of most Bengalis, and is willing to collaborate with the Japanese to win independence from Britain. Seeing Byomkesh as a potential protege -- he impressed Bakshy earlier with a Holmsean dismantling of a cover story the young detective tried on him -- the doctor invites Byomkesh to collaborate, but our hero can see only carnage and mass destruction resulting from Guha's scheme. Instead, he tries to thwart the impending Japanese attack, though he learns eventually that something more sinister than an invasion is actually planed.
Say what you will about her acting; you will remember Swastika Mukherjee's name.
Neeraj Kabi as the multitalented Dr. Guha.
Bakshy! gives new life to pulp/noir tropes that may be near exhaustion in their original U.S. context, and serves as a reminder for those who need it that Indian cinema isn't all Bollywood song and dance. The film's ending promises a sequel, or at least hopes to create demand for one. It succeeded with me, at least.