I will begin with a disclaimer - this is not a comment on either Dibakar Banerjee's filmmaking nor on Sushant Singh Rajput's acting (I loved both, despite some plotholes in the movie). It is merely the story of how I watched the Dibakar-directed crime thriller Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! in the City of so-called Joy, my first home and the fictional Byomkesh's hunting ground. (Also Read: Detective Byomkesh Bakshy!: A Sherlock in Calcutta, In Pursuit of the Truth)
I live now in Gurgaon and, indeed, have lived in and around Delhi for several years now - so many years, that I no longer trouble to make weekly visits to Chittaranjan Park, South Delhi's Little Bengal, for assorted requirements ranging from Jharna ghee to phuchkas. Even less frequent now are visits to Kolkata and when I do return it is with a packed schedule of old haunts to renew acquaintance with. Mostly these haunts are food-related - Mocambo, Nizam's and other favourite eateries - but on a just-concluded visit, I had an appointment with a hero of Bengal, private eye Byomkesh Bakshy, now rendered in a Bollywood version (although Dibakar's crafting is the very opposite of 'Bollywood').
I had tickets to an afternoon show of the film on a Friday exactly a week after it had been in cinemas. By sheer happenstance, a visit to Kolkata coincided somewhat with the movie's release and though it meant a delayed introduction to the Bollywood Byomkesh, it also meant I would be able to watch it with fellow Byomkesh fans, my family.
The cinema hall, a marvel of polished marble and plush carpeting to rival any Delhi multiplex, was the first revelation. There were several counters offering an almost dizzying selection of refreshments, popcorn being the most pedestrian of comestibles available. We bought nothing. At the now late and very much lamented theatres of my teen years - New Empire, Lighthouse, Globe, monuments to cinema in a vanished Calcutta now replaced by an often unfamiliar Kolkata - we would have fallen upon the unpretentious packets of popcorn that came in a solitary flavour and greasy crisps that you could buy from a single wooden counter or the man who came around in the interval with a plus-sized tray hanging from his neck. The popcorn and crisps came in one size only and if you wanted a larger helping, you bought two packets. In the swanky new theatre, we took our seats unfed. However, the bathrooms were magnificent, five-star.
In the two-and-a-half hours that followed, we sat eagerly through scenes of a city and a culture that we knew all too well, the difference in decades notwithstanding. Dibakar's Byomkesh operates in 1943, but at several levels the Calcutta he lived in is unchanged. Tendrils of smoke impede vision and breathing in a fictionalised version of College Street's Coffee House; rickshaws are ridden through winding bylanes; the obstacle course presented by the pavements of Bosepukur is navigated expertly; everywhere, there are ordinary Bengalis doing time-honoured Bengali things like walking home with a freshly-bought fish or rousing the rabble with revolutionary rhetoric.
After the movie ended, we the watchers spent a happy half hour discussing Dibakar's alterations from the original stories, like Dr Anukul Guha who deals in cocaine in Saradindu Bandopadhyay's books rather than heroin, and trying to recall if the book Byomkesh also had roots in Munger. That half hour would not have been available to me in a Gurgaon or Delhi cinema. Nor would the gleeful enumeration of Byomkesh's Bengali traits have taken place.
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