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Interview Bengali

Bidaay Byomkesh is not only a detective film, it is also an emotional story: Debaloy Bhattacharya

The writer-director explains why he had no trouble writing the all-new Byomkesh Bakshi story but admits that shooting the film was far tougher than he had imagined.

Roushni Sarkar

Debaloy Bhattacharya’s Bidaay Byomkesh, which hits theatres tomorrow, is the first original story in a long time on the iconic Bengali sleuth created by the novelist and screenwriter Saradindu Bandopadhyay.

There have been numerous adaptations of stories from the Byomkesh Bakshi series since Basu Chatterjee’s popular Hindi television series starring Rajit Kapur in 1993. Over the years, numerous films have also been made in which distinguished actors have donned the avatar of the Satyanweshi (Seeker of Truth) and charmed audiences.

In Bengali cinema, the trend began with the great Satyajit Ray as he adapted Bandopadhyay’s Chiriakhana into a film (1967) with Uttam Kumar as the famous detective. In recent times, Anjan Dutta and Arindam Sil have presented quite a few Byomkesh stories on celluloid with Abir Chatterjee and Jisshu Sengupta as the sleuth.

However, Bhattacharya’s film is a novel attempt on the detective’s journey so far. The teaser, trailer and Ishan Mitra’s soulful rendition of 'Sondhye Namar Aagey' have already generated much anticipation about the film.

“Actually the anticipation has grown more than I imagined," said the director. "I hope people eventually go and watch the film in theatres. The teaser, the trailer and the song have created quite a buzz and people have actually become interested in the film. Hence, my expectation from the audience has also increased. I am quite nervous about how it is going to fare."

While Abir Chatterjee plays both the aged sleuth and his grandson in the film, Sohini Sarkar essays the roles of Satyabati (Byomkesh Bakshi’s better half) and Satyaki’s girlfriend Tunna. Joy Sengupta will be seen playing Abhimanyu, Bidipta Chakraborty his wife Anusuya, and Rahul Arunadoy Banerjee, Ajit (Byomkesh’s partner).

In the film, Bakshi’s son Abhimanyu goes missing for years. One day Bakshi receives a call from the police station and is informed that a stranger who claims to have committed a murder has appeared. According to their information, the murderer is none other than Bakshi’s long-lost son Abhimanyu.

The aged detective, who now leads a life of seclusion, finds it difficult to get to the root of the case involving his own son. Also, Bakshi’s grandson Satyaki, who gets caught in a complex position with the emergence of events, starts investigating the case.

The primary challenge of Bidaay Byomkesh is not just the entirely new storyline, but also the introduction of the character of Satyaki. Asked whether he believes the Bengali audience is ready to accept the new avatar of Bakshi and Satyaki as his legatee, Bhattacharya replied, “Honestly, I was a bit scared when conceiving the story. However, I must say I have not deconstructed the character of Byomkesh but have tried to take it further.

"The aged Byomkesh spends his days in hibernation, making clay idols and tending to his rose garden. In this backdrop, a crisis takes place in his household — which has never happened in any of Bandopadhyay’s stories.

"We have always seen Byomkesh go out and solve crimes while his household has been the backdrop. His home has been a place of relief from all his investigations. Here, the crime involves somebody from his own home, his family, making the case even more challenging for him. And he is not that agile anymore.

"Satyaki’s character emerges in this context. He belongs to this generation and is arrogant too. He shares a complicated relationship with his legendary grandfather who has been unable to find out his [Satyaki's] father’s whereabouts.

"Do we see a bit of Bakshi in Satyaki while he investigates? On the other hand, does Bakshi, who is almost on the verge of losing the most challenging case of his life, end up exploring himself in a new way through this story? The characters of Bidaay Byomkesh have been developed from the crisis itself."

The director also clarified that he did not have to take inspiration from the Byomkesh stories consciously. “See, I have grown up reading Byomkesh stories. As a Bengali, I have carried Byomkesh’s inspirations and his stories in my blood, in my breath and in my overall culture, and I did not really read all his stories again to write my own.

"The progression of Byomkesh’s ageing, his son Abhmanyu’s marriage and Abhimanyu’s enrolment in the police has not been very calculative; rather it grew spontaneously. While writing the story I did not realize how naturally Satyaki was born and also got a girlfriend.”

Bhattacharya said he was clear from the beginning that he would only cast Abir Chatterjee as Byomkesh Bakshi, but he had to make some brave decisions regarding the actor’s presentation on screen.

To create the elderly version of the sleuth they had to use prosthetic makeup. “Prosthetic makeup is both a critical and expensive affair," he explained. "It took a lot of time to put on every day. Initially, we thought it would be impossible. However, when [producer] Shrikant Mohta said that if we could not make some impossibilities possible then what are we there for, his motivation inspired me!”

The director admitted he was nervous every single day of the shooting, wondering whether they would be able to complete the film on schedule. But they did manage it.

The team also faced challenges in etching out the double roles played by two artistes. “It was madness, totally!" said Bhattacharya. "First, prosthetic makeup, then double roles of Abir and Sohini, you cannot imagine how difficult it has been to finish the film in an industry which has so many constraints.”

Bhattacharya said Bidaay Byomkesh is not a mere detective story, but is also a film on relationships and their nuances. “I have always believed that Byomkesh is bigger than his stories," said the writer-director. "My story is about Byomkesh and the complexities of father-son, grandfather-grandson, mother-son and a budding romantic relationship surround it. Bidaay Byomkesh is also an emotional film.”