Dutt is both the strongest and weakest link in the film
Story: Retired justice Nishanath Sen approaches Byomkesh Bakshi, asking him to find out about small-time actress Sunayana, who he believes has been living surreptitiously in his spacious Golap Colony — a fishery-dairy-poultry farm — an unofficial rehab for social misfits. A trip and some probing later, Byomkesh learns about the murder of Sen and revisits the colony to seek the truth.
Review: Towards the end of the film, Anjan Dutt — in the garb of what clearly looks like Anjan Dutt, shades, cap, jacket in place — pulls off a Hitchcock on us, the unsuspecting audience. In the role that he has introduced himself, he admits to be a ‘Byomkesh Bakshi fan’. That, in a nutshell, sums up his own love affair with the franchise, which he has been out on a limb to promote. It would have been easier to remake Chiriyakhana than be truthful to Sharadindu Bandopadhyay’s eponymous novel. And Dutt, who loves to take the road less travelled, pledges his loyalty to the second. Just that, his Byomkesh is solely his.
Set in a fictitious colony, an hour or so from Sealdah, Byomkesh O Chiriyakhana begins with Nishanath Sen, who sent a few to the noose during his tenure as a judge, inviting Byomkesh (Jisshu) over to unveil the mystery around a yesteryear actress. With aide Ajit (Saswata) and a producer friend in tow, Byomkesh makes a short trip and comes back more puzzled. Just when Sen seeks closure, he gets murdered and Byomkesh is implored to begin the probe by his friend, a cop.
With an epic ensemble, all of who are social outcasts, Golap Colony is a zoo bigger than the one in Alipore. That everyone living there is a reformed criminal adds to the story its many layers. While the novel too doesn’t touch upon why Sen felt that Sunayana, an actress, had taken refuge in his colony, Dutt steers clear of the topic, the starting point. What he builds instead are the possible motives behind the crime. Could it be Sen’s wife, Damayanti, who too like the rest, has a past? Or his nephew, Bijoy, who has been secretly siphoning off the colony’s funds? Or is it one of the many residents with criminal records?
Byomkesh, seen here as a vulnerable and even temperamental sleuth, who detests the label Satyanweshi, is a one-of-its-kind portrayal of the detective. He is neither the Sharadindu Byomkesh known for his cool demeanour nor Ray’s larger-than-life detective played by Uttam Kumar. The latter, in fact, was seen as a bachelor, living in a messy pad with a snake as a pet. Speaking about the command that Ray had over the idiom of the American thriller of an earlier time, Andrew Robinson had once written, ‘It is an idiom that suits Uttam Kumar, who here has something of the sexuality of Bogart or Mitchum.’
The question here is, does Jisshu come any close? Jisshu’s appeal is rooted in his friendly neighbour avatar. Suited up for the occasion, the scene where he visits an old Chinese para, brings back memories of Uttam Kumar, disguised as a Japanese horticulturist in Ray’s film — though the situations are as different as chalk and cheese. Jisshu is a treat in scenes independent of Saswata, but is partly eclipsed in those with him. That apart, all the actors in smaller roles, except Satyabati, do their bit to add drama to the plot.
Dutt is, in fact, both the strongest and weakest link in the film. In the climax scene, which has several actors coming together, he scores. Ray, not a lover of whodunits, thought denouements were long and boring, but here, Dutt keeps the audience hooked. Again, the biggest misfit in this complicated Sharadindu novel on misfits is Dutt himself, who could have done better by explaining why he was there at all and had Byomkesh chasing him at the end — is it an allegory for real life where Byomkesh, as a subject, keeps haunting him? Also, two Dutts in the same film is an overdose. He could well have allowed another actor to dub for Bijoy aka Riju.
Breaking away from the indoors, this is one Byomkesh that takes its characters on a short trip to what clearly is Bolpur. The camera, however, refrains from exploring its beauty, but kisses actors in close-up shots. Also, there’s nothing to validate the era in which Byomkesh is set. The author had once written about the place being turned into a graveyard of modern technology post World War II, and Dutt draws nothing out of it. If he does pay a tribute, it is to Sherlock Holmes, not to a film made 50 years ago. Even Ray hero-worshipped him. When Ajit pieces together a few clues and Byomkesh breaks into, ‘Elementary, my dear’, Dutt lets his love for Conan Doyle show through.