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Dibakar Banerjee: Reinterpreting 'Byomkesh' for youthful audience

"Why?" was the question that Dibakar Banerjee asked himself while embarking on the journey of adapting 'Detective Byomkesh Bakshy!' as the youthful, dhoti-clad crime solver in the politically volatile era of 1940s Calcutta.

Dibakar Banerjee. Pic/Sayyed Sameer Abedi
Dibakar Banerjee. Pic/Sayyed Sameer Abedi 

Something of a childhood dream, his next film is his most ambitious and yet the most difficult project. The director, who has acquired the rights to Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay's all Byomkesh stories, said his biggest motivation was the curiosity surrounding the unorthodox career choice of this young man in a time when jobs were rare to come by.

Despite its period setting, Dibakar believes, Byomkesh is a man of today. The director is confident that if the film succeeds, it will popularise a true-blue Indian icon as a franchise hero and bring the tradition of Bengal noir back in fashion. The director, who started his cinematic journey with "Khosla Ka Ghosla" and went on explore diverse contemporary problems in his subsequent projects 'Oye Lucky Lucky Oye', 'Love Sex Aur Dhokha' and 'Shanghai', said he wanted to begin Byomkesh's journey from his first case.

'Detective Byomkesh Bakshy!' also stars Anand Tiwari and Swastika Mukherjee in principal roles. The movie, produced by Dibakar Banerjee Productions and Yash Raj Films, is set to release on April 3.

Here are the excerpts from an interview during his PTI visit:

Q: Why begin from the beginning in Byomkesh?
A: I wanted to stamp it with my own interpretation. When you go from a book to film, then in the film you can introduce many things. When I and Urmi Juvekar, the scriptwriter, sat down, the first question that we asked ourselves was 'Why make Byomkesh?' We realized that we wanted to make Byomkesh because we wanted to know why this young man, fresh out of college, would want to become a detective in 1940s. Why not become a clerk or choose any other profession because it is a very unorthodox choice. Sharadindu has left certain things delightfully unsaid and that's where a filmmaker comes, between the lines. Slowly, we realized that we wanted to tell the coming-of-age story of Byomkesh, the story of how he became what he became.

Q: You wanted to make the film for a long time. Was it difficult to hold on to the idea for so long?
A: I have always wanted to make it and knew that I will make it sooner or later. When you make films, you start believing in destiny a bit. No matter how hard you push, you can't force it. There are too many variables involved for one puny human being to fathom. Films are vague; there are too many people involved, too much money and egos. One learns to be patient.

Q: Will there be a sequel?
A: Well, the first one has to do well for that. What we are waiting to see is whether a film that does not have a love story and typical action, will work or not. We want to bring back the culture of detective fiction on screen after 50 years. It is a pioneering moment. Also, my secret wish is that we often watch Spiderman, Sherlock Holmes and Batman but we forget that we have many gems hidden in our own cupboards. If we make films on them, our audiences don't need to go anywhere else. Byomkesh is an Indian icon. I want a true Indian icon to succeed.

Q: What has changed when you wanted to make it first and now?
A: My experience as a director. It is a tough film in terms of the script and writing. We are reinterpreting, bringing something new. It was a tough one to pull off. You don't have a good record of period films in India. It involved a lot of research. We shot in Kolkata for 28 days out of the 66 days and then recreated the period on our set in Mumbai. This film needed a lot of planning. We went to historians, books, architecture of that period and got the oral history from the 90-year-olds who still remember those times.

Q: Did you add things to make it grittier?
A: The grittiness was there in Sharadindu's stories. I did not have to work on that count. My aim was to bring the era of Bengal noir back visually. There was a long standing tradition of detective and crime stories since the 1920s there. They were pulp books, you could buy them cheap. They would have these amazing illustrations of a dhoti-clad hero pointing a gun and saree-clad woman swooning in his arms. There would be a vintage car in the background and a foggy Calcutta street. It was romanticism. Our poster recreates this and our film is also bringing that.

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