Sunday, June 21, 2015

Of Zoya Reading The Post On Dil Dhadakne Do

A few days ago, I had written on Dil Dhadakne Do, and somehow, the post reached Zoya Akhtar. She posted it on the her Facebook page, and also on the film's. I was happy that she read it, after all she is one of the my favorite film-makers. This led to an avalanche of page views on the post, and many people commented, some sent an email. One person asked me to watch the film Amélie and write thoughts on the same. It feels nice that so many people felt a connection with the review. I have always believed that Hindi films are equally insightful if we try to think about them. The director may or may not have intended something, but a film is one's own interpretation, and as Baradwaj Rangan wrote, "Stop trying to figure out what the director intended. Only he knows. Besides, there’s no guarantee that what he wanted to make is actually what he’s ended up making. Trust the tale, not the teller. Write for yourself. That is, think of yourself as the audience. Write the kind of reviews that you’d like to read. There are always others to do the consumer report kind of reviews. The acting is good. The writing is okay. The cinematography is bad. That sort of thing, as if a film is a kitchen utensil you hold up against the light to check for holes. You’re discussing art, for crying out loud. It is going to mean different things to different people. No matter what you write, you’re never going to make everyone happy. So why not write for yourself, and hope that at least a handful like you will end up happy?"

Over the last two-three years, I have realized how much I love films, and have spent days writing on some of them. I feel I have learnt to watch movies more deeply during this time but I still have to learn further, and more importantly, learn to write better—I don't write prolifically. I wish I could do this full time, but it ain't easy. Who will give a chance to, as one comment said, an obscure blogger? If only wishes were horses. I was thinking of writing a personal post. I have completely stopped writing those, so, don't know how much to share or not, and decided not to write it. Something has been bothering me for the last two-three weeks. And, finally, I decided to take one leave from office as I feeling too tired. The last time I took some time off was spring break in March 2014; so, I am taking one day off and will be going to Portland for some break from the usual. More later.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Dil Dhadakne Do — Let The Heart Beat

Dil Dhadakne Do (Let The Heart Beat) is Zoya Akhtar's fourth film as a director. It is primarily the story of the Mehras. Neelam Mehra (Shefali Shah) is a homemaker who is married to Kamal Mehra (Anil Kapoor), a self-made businessman, for about thirty years. They have two children—Ayesha and Kabir. Ayesha (Priyanka Chopra) runs her own company Musafir, and is married to Manav Sangha (Rahul Bose). Kabir (Ranveer Singh) works with his father in their family business and his 'one true love' is flying. It is Neelam's and Kamal's thirtieth wedding anniversary, and they invite their friends and family for a cruise in Turkey and Greece. Beneath the veneer of celebrations, the family is not only struggling for the survival of their bankrupt business but also trying to fill the void in their equally bankrupt, almost broken relationships. The cruise, thus, becomes a symbol for their own family, trying to find its shore as it is adrift, directionless, and barely floating, like their own unanchored relationships. 
In an interview, Zoya Akhtar says, "I am obsessed with people. I observe everyone all the time." This obsession is clearly seen in her films' attention to detail. Each of her films is meticulously researched and it is observing and understanding these nuances, and insights that provide much gratification to the mind. The feeling of contentment and delight that is thereafter one understands and observes the hidden meaning of the little details is simply unmatched. It feels like an acknowledgment to the director that yes, I did get your point on the message that is being conveyed.
Each character of the film is well-written and makes us feel for them. There was something heartbreaking about the character of Neelam, and Shefali Shah has played it with perfection. Neelam is trapped in a loveless marriage. The first time we see her in the film, she is standing in front of a mirror, putting on lipstick, and looking at herself to check if she is looking pretty. This mirror scene is repeated many times in the film. Later, when she gets ready for their anniversary dinner, she is again looking at herself in the mirror. Kamal is standing next to her, and she thinks that he will give her a compliment that she is looking beautiful. Instead, Kamal does not even look at her, and simply goes away. In one of the most moving scenes in the film, she is eating a cupcake after she sees Kamal shamelessly flirting with Guler. Here again, she is standing in front of a mirror. Later, after their big fight, she says to Kamal, "Tum mujhe bhool gaye, Kamal," and then, we understand why the mirror is important to her. The mirror is a symbol of her existence, that 'reminds' her that she is still pretty, unlike her husband who 'forgets' her. The mirror tells her that she is beautiful like the magical one in Snow White and Seven Dwarfs. The mirror is also a symbol of the image that she has to project to the outside world. She is trapped like the image in the mirror but she cannot leave him because she has nowhere else to go. She has to pretend that everything is fine and put on a mask; for instance, note the scene when she is fighting with Kamal after his false heart attack, and she tells the person outside to wait and during that time, she composes herself as if all is well. She compensates for the lack of her husband's love for food, and that is why she does not want to go on a diet. She is always feeling insecure that her husband might leave her any day. The mirror and the food are her only source of giving her a sense of calm. I am not sure if Neelam will find happiness again, because somehow, Kamal did not seem that sort of a person who would change easily, though I really hope she does, or at least, she has the courage to walk out of her marriage. In fact, this mirror scene is again repeated when Ayesha says to Manav that she wants a divorce. She is also sitting in front of a mirror. She says she tried really hard to love him, but she could not. Perhaps, the mirror was symbolizing that she would become like her own mother, trapped in a loveless marriage if she did not make choices. The mirror made her realize her own existence, of which she is strangely so unconfident, despite her professional successes. There was a similar mirror-related reference in Vishal Bharadwaj's Haider, where at some point in the film, Ghazala (Tabu) comes to meet Haider (Shahid Kapoor), and there is a broken mirror on the wall, and in that mirror, we see two faces of her. He remarks, "Do chehre hain aapke." The mirror is Neelam's true friend who knows everything about her own two faces, the one that she shows to the outside world, and the other one of which only the mirror knows about.
At another point in the film, one of my favorite and the smartest characters in the film, Putlu (Khushi Dubey), is talking to Kabir when the ship is about to reach the city of Istanbul. She remarks, "Istanbul, is naam me kuch jaadu hai, yahan kuch bhi ho sakta hai." There is a significant history associated with this city. In the film, they visit the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, also known as the Blue Mosque. A tourist guide is explaining that the mosque has references from both the Muslim Ottoman and the Christian Byzantine cultures. Interestingly, Istanbul is one of the very few cities that is located on two continents—Europe and Asia. Istanbul is often called a city on the cusp, where two continents collide. I think it is perfectly befitting that the film is a story of a family on the cusp, whether it will survive or it will break; a story of the collision of two cultures—modernity and tradition. So, we have Kamal saying that "Is family me na to kabhi divorce hua hai na to kabhi hoga." Neelam, in spite of being unhappy and well aware of her husband's philandering, never thought of a divorce. In contrast, Ayesha is thinking of one because she is not happy in her marriage not because her husband is a bad person, it is just that she is not compatible with him. Kamal remarks, "Tum dono young ho, successful ho, Punjabi ho, squash khelte ho." Ayesha replies, "But hum dono ek dusre se bahut alag hai." It is this scene that contrasts the two colliding cultures. A culture of the parents of morality, and sanskaar where women are only expected to have babies after marriage to solve their problems, in contrast to a culture of the children, where a woman's career is as much important as a man's. A city like Istanbul known for its modernity and tradition becomes the perfect place for the setting of these cultures, and occidental culture swinging towards a modern Europe or drifting towards an oriental Asian culture with relatively conservative thinking, and it is this, if I may be a bit liberal in the choice of words, clash of civilizations, that the Mehras have to survive. The cruise, as mentioned before, is thus a metaphor for this family that is adrift. Perhaps, that explains the shot of the cruise at the intermission as well, where the family could veer on either side. I found it fascinating that even the cruise was named Sovereign. Though Sovereign-class cruise ships are well-known, somehow, the name becomes a juxtaposition with the film's story. These people are masters of their own destiny on the ship; they are sovereign on the ship, far away from the place they came from where they have to worry more about, "log kya kahenge" instead of their happiness. In fact, at one point, Indu Aunty says, "Dilli me to maine aise kabhi ni karna hai, pata ni log kya samjhenge." The ship makes them sovereign and unanchored from their traditional moors, on the cusp of new horizons, which is why there was again a metaphor of a lifeboat in the end, and Pluto had said, "Aaj sirf Kabir nahi, meri puri family doobne se bachi hai."
After Shefali, I loved Ranveer Singh's performance. He is a charmer. Ranveer is known for his over-the-top acting and he is actually good at it, but in Dil Dhadakne Do, he is understated, yet he shines as Kabir. There is a thehraav in his performance, which makes him a delight to watch. He seems to genuinely have fun in the movie, and he brings a lightness to the proceedings, and whenever he comes on the screen, he brings a smile to the face. His chemistry with Anushka is so good; they make such a wonderful couple on the screen. Ever since Pehli Baar came out, I have been addicted to it, and when the song came on screen, I could not stop singing aloud. It is a fabulous song, which they have choreographed themselves, and it is thrilling to watch that song.
The first time we see Kabir, he is wearing a shirt that has NASA written on it, which gives us a hint about him. Kabir's 'one true love' is flying, but his parents want him to join the family business. Since their business is not doing well, his father is thinking of selling his plane. He does not want to join the family business, and he knows he ain't good at it. He says, "Mujhe lagta hai meri jagah kahin aur hai." There is a wonderful sequence in the initial few moments of the film, where he is flying all by himself. He meets Farah (Anushka Sharma) on the cruise who is a dancer at the ship's club and instantly falls in love with her. Their relationship has contours similar to that of Arjun and Laila from Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara. Arjun, who was afraid of water and did not know swimming, learns it from Laila. Similarly, at one point in the film, Kabir and Farah are sitting on the deck. Farah narrates her story about how she ran away from home, and Kabir is amazed to hear that he calls her 'Fearless Farah'. She says, "Agar tum meri jagah hote, to tum bhi fearless hote. Aur kud padte yahan se aur phir doobo ya tairo. Sink or swim." She teaches him to be fearless, and in fact, he did jump from the cruise in the end—sink or swim—that's what she had said, and he follows her advice. When they both meet for lunch, they instantly hit it off, and start saying a bunch of things about themselves. Farah says that she has a tattoo, and he asks her which part of her body is it. She is evasive about it and replies, "Bahut jaldi me ho." And, here, I will reiterate the extent of detailing in the film. When Pehli Baar ends, she takes off her shirt, and if we observe carefully and I am reasonably sure about it, we do see her tattoo, and it is a bird. Kabir's one true love is flying, and he really wants to fly, so he falls in love with a bird. It is wonderful symbolism. Kabir wants to liberate himself and spread his wings. This theme of liberation is prevalent in all of Zoya's films. For instance, in Luck By Chance, there is a metaphor for birds. There are many scenes that had birds. Sona’s (Konkana's) apartment is full of birds. The entire shelf contains birds, pigeons, and parrots. At one point, Vikram comes and picks up the bird that had fallen off. Vikram is wearing a shirt that has a bird and it has two colorspurple and white. The birds referred to the ambitions of both Vikram and Sona, that they want to become big stars. They want to reach the sky and fly high like the birds do. To reach the top, Vikram who is a two-faced person will do anything to get there. That is why he picked up the bird that had two colors and that is why he wears a shirt that has a bird in two colors. When he meets Shah Rukh, Vikram is again wearing a shirt with birds. In the end, birds fly over Vikram's hoarding. Similarly, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara is a story of the inner fears of three friends, and they have to learn to let go. The activities that they are scared mirror their inner turmoil. In Bombay Talkies, there is again a theme of liberation. Vicky finally danced to Sheila Ki Jawaani. The song became a metaphor for his suppressed hopes and liberated him, though fleetingly, from his immense inner turmoil. Kisi aur ki mujhko zaroorat kya, main toh khud se pyaar jataun. Here in Dil Dhadakne Do, we see the metaphor of flying and birds in Kabir and Farah.
However, one thing perplexed me. When being asked by Farah, if he prefers democracy or dictatorship, Kabir replies that he is for dictatorship. Either he is too used to his father's dictatorial ways that he prefers that, or perhaps, it refers to his own need of control over things, which he presently does not have. Don't judge he said; I am not judging, but I was curious by his choice.

Somehow, there seemed to be a feeling of deep pathos in Farah's eyes. It seemed that she was betrayed by someone before. She says, "Maine is jahaaz me bahuton ke ek dusre se vaade karte dekhta hai," which made me feel that there was somebody else in her life who betrayed her. That is why she was practical, whereas Kabir, who has not seen much heartbreak was more romantic. Agar Shah Jahan practical hota to phir Taj Mahal kaun banata. I must add that their story reminded me of another of my all-time favorite film Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu. In that film, too, Rahul, a twenty-five-year-old perfectly average son, belonging to a dysfunctional family, is fired from his job, and then falls in love with Rianna, a dancer, who teaches him the value of finding life. In that film, there is the metaphor of animals, too, as seen in this film.
As I said earlier, and will again repeat that each character is so well-written, with their own quirks; in fact, I can say that I personally know someone who is exactly like Manav's mom (Zarina Wahab) who used to always make excuses that she has all the diseases in the world whenever one said something to her. She had vertigo, asthma, and arthritis. Vinod Khanna (Manoj Pahwa) used to always add 's' to anything. Manav seemed to have a fascination with the royal family. For instance, there is a servant standing behind him whose only purpose is to hold roti and give it to him when he asks as if he is from a family of the royals. Also, he said, "My uncle used to read law at Yale." Who says read law instead of studied law? Or the instance, where he asks his mother to narrate the story of the Maharaja of Jodhpur. Indu Mehra, Ayesha's and Kabir's Chachi, was the funniest of the lot and spread gossip everywhere, and is played superbly by Ayesha Raza. At one point, when Ayesha screams at her to find some job rather than gossiping, she looks and says, "Pagal ho gayi hai. Humein kaun job dega." There is an unexplained character of Divya (Sarah Hashmi), Ayesha's and Kabir's cousin, but I strongly felt that she was a lesbian. But, Putlu is the smartest of the lot and keeps on observing everyone; I wish there was more of her in the film, but I felt that Putlu was Zoya Akhtar herself. She was the eye that used to watch everyone, and Zoya does the same through this film. It reinforces the adage that the smartest people are kids and dogs. I love people like Putlu and would make her my BFF. I love to observe people and can imagine the type of conversation Putlu and I will have. And, was there any special reason behind the names of some characters resembling Bollywood actors. Vinod Khanna, Amrish, Sunny, Noorie (from Yash Chopra's Noorie)?
Putlu :-)
Also, another interesting thing was that the film begins with the black and white pictures of various animals, such as giraffes, zebras, elephants, tigers, chimpanzees, and lions. The narrator, says, "Duniya me tarah tarah ke jaanwar hai, magar sab se ajeeb janwar ka naam hai insaan."  This theme of man as an animal was repeated across the film. When they begin their cruise, Pluto says, "Ajeeb baat yeh hai ki insaan ko sabse bada khatra kise aur se nahi, dusre insaanon se hai. To bachne ke liye aaye din apne rang dhang, taur tareeke, sab kuch badalta rehta hai. Aur badalte badalte yeh aksar insaan kam aur girget zyada ho jata hai." It makes the point that humans keep changing themselves, that they start to resemble more like chameleons. Then, he makes a statement on the wives of Sood and Khanna that although they might be smiling they would rather bite each other off like animals. Funnily, both of these ladies carry a leopard print bag. Later, when Jamaal Uncle says that Ayesha appeared on the list of top entrepreneurs, Kamal replies next year Kabir will be there as he is a tiger. In another instance, Manav says to Ayesha that he heard Lalit Sood is investing in Ayka, and then, remarks that Lalit Sood is a vulture, and her dad is a hawk. And, then, when Farah and Kabir see each other for the first time, Pluto remarks that, "Shuru me hum jaanwaron me bhi aisa hi khel hota hai." Later, we see a bird tattoo on Farah when the song Pehli Baar ends. In another instance, in the scene, where all of them are having fun on the deck, and Divya pukes, there is again an animal reference. Manav asks them to look at the constellation Centaurus and then says that is "half man, and half horse; Ptolemy ne discover kiya tha." This happens when Divya calls Noorie a 'star' and then Manav explains this to them. Again, a centaur is half-human, and half-horse, giving another animal reference, as if indicating the primal nature (wild behavior) versus the civilized nature of man. If all these were not enough, the entire film is narrated from the eyes of a dog named after a planet (ex-planet) Pluto. A planet revolves around stars, and these people are stars, as Divya remarked, then it makes sense that the dog is named after a planet. In the climax also, Pluto says, "Kehte hai jaanwar apni payediashi fitrat nahi badal sakte, magar insaan jitna chahe apne ko badal sakta hai."
As I had written earlier, that each and every scene in Luck By Chance had a flower, and this flower pattern was seen in Bombay Talkies and Talaash as well. In Dil Dhadakne Do, too, a number of scenes have flowers, whether be it dresses, sofa cushions, or on the table, flowers are resplendent in a Zoya Akhtar/Reema Kagti film. I also saw many, many paintings in the film.
Much has been written and commented on the character of Ayesha, and the theme of feminism in the film. At an early scene in the film, Ayesha and Kabir are having ice cream, and Kabir takes some of it from her, and she gets really irritated as to why does he always take her share. This ice cream scene was a tiny instance of what had happened in her entire life. Kabir always got the first right to her things, whether it was inheriting his father's business, even though he is clearly not good at it, or the fact that her name was not included in the invitation card even though she had organized the entire party. The reasoning that Kamal gives for not including her name is because what will people say actually happens in real life. Ayesha should have been more confident about herself. She is a great entrepreneur, ranked in the top list of the same by Forbes magazine. She runs her own business and understands the business better than Kabir (when she explains asset reduction to Kabir). She is even better at tennis than her husband, but she is always told that she does not really fit into it and all she needs to do is give them a baby. When her mother-in-law probes the reason for divorce, she says if her son does not let her do shopping. Her own parents have never really encouraged her to be successful, they made her forcefully marry someone else; this might be the reason why she never gained confidence. She is a great woman. Even Farah was a great lady, who gave more importance to her work, and knew how to separate her work from her personal life. I must add that a woman asking for a divorce (not because her husband is abusive or a horrible one), and even admitting to taking contraceptive pills, is again a great step forward in our films. I was again reminded of Maya from Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna, where Rishi was a gem of a person, much better than Manav, yet Maya was suffocated in her marriage. Ayesha says that she tried really hard but could not love him, so, ain't it better to walk out of her marriage than become like her own mother? She starts her travel firm Musafir. A part of me makes me think that she started this firm because she herself wanted to travel with Sunny. He was a journalist traveling all over the world, in fact, the reason that Indu Aunty wanted Divya to hook up with Sunny that "isi bahane na Divya thora ghoomegi." Perhaps, that is why she started Musafir as Sunny went abroad leaving her behind. She needs a companion, a musafir for her own life. I also really liked the relationship that she and Kabir had; they shared not only their talks but also their silences. For instance, they both look at each other when their father is making a toast about his wife, and they know what a big liar he is; also, they both supported each other silently sitting behind their parents and telling each other the right thing to do. It is a very beautiful relationship, perhaps, mirroring Zoya's own relationship with her brother.
One of my favorite scenes was in the medical room when they all finally talk to each other. Again, it brought out the clash of cultures, when Kamal says that these days there is no morality and no sanskaar in the concept of marriage. It was a powerful scene when Kabir mentioned his father's own dubious morality and the way her mother pretended that everything was alright. The moment when he says he loves Farah, "Vo dancer hai, aur Musalman hai," again, underscores the strength of detailing and also, shows the film's intelligence. 

In all honesty, I loved the entire film except for two little things. First, the character of the dog Pluto. He used to explain everything that was happening, almost spoon-feeding, and preaching some homilies. After a point, it got a bit too much. The strength of a Zoya film is that it nudges you to read more into the scene and its metaphors without giving too much explanation. For instance, the scene where Pluto describes the first meeting of Kabir and Farah. It was a scorching scene, and we know the instant chemistry between the two, so, there was no need to give a running commentary on the events. The second thing that made me a bit uncomfortable was the climax. It became a bit Priyadarshan-esque. I was hoping something will happen to the family, in fact, I wanted a somewhat sad ending. I still watch Luck By Chance every two-three months, and I feel sad about the people but at the same time, there is hope that these characters would learn to make a life for themselves. Almost every genuine film lover I know loves Luck By Chance, but somehow, it did not work much at the box office. So, I don't blame Zoya for giving us a happy ending, but I was hoping that something sad, and at the same time, something uplifting would happen. For instance, Neelam walking out of her marriage. Nevertheless, other people know better. 

I really liked all the performances, and it is to the film's credit that each character gets its share. I also loved how the song Galla Goodiyaan has been shot in one take which is actually very difficult; this year's Oscar winner Birdman was made to film as it has been shot in one take. I would love to learn it someday.
In trivia, this was the song that Naina Sood sang.
In 2001, Farhan Akhtar made Dil Chahta Hai, which was translated as the heart desires but billed as 'do your thing'. The seminal film based on the story of three friends talked about the yearnings of the human heart. Jagmagaate hain jhilmilaate hain, apne raaste, Yeh khushi rahe roshni rahe apne vaaste. Fourteen years later, Zoya Akhtar makes Dil Dhadakne Do which asks for letting that heartbeat, "Agar koi alag tarah jeena chahta hai, to use jeene do; har dil apni hi tarah dhadakta hai, har dil dhadakne do." 

More on Luck By Chance, a film which I love like anything: here and here.
More on Bombay Talkies: here

Dialogue of the Day:
"Dil se faisla karo tumhein kya karna hai, dimaag tarkeeb nikal lega.
— Farah, Dil Dhadakne Do

P.S.— I had thought that I will write a good post, but it did not turn out the way I wanted. I really wished I wrote this better. I watched this movie 20 miles away from home in a faraway theater in a suburb of Seattle, and I am going again because I want to live inside a Zoya Akhtar film :)

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! — Of Extraordinary Ordinariness

We live in interesting times. In the last two months, two period films released—Bombay Velvet, and Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! The former is set in Bombay of the 1960s while the latter is set in Calcutta of the 1940s. Somehow, the subject matter of both the films reminded me of two of my favorite books—Midnight's Children (Salman Rushdie), and The Sea of Poppies (Amitav Ghosh). I did watch both the films, and really liked both of them. I will write on Bombay Velvet later, but in this one, I try to write something on Detective Byomkesh Bakshy!

Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! is a gorgeous film. Directed by Dibakar Banerjee and based on the stories by Saradindu Bandyopadhyay, the film traces the origins of its eponymous hero Byomkesh Bakshy (Sushant Singh Rajput). Set in Calcutta during the Second World War, Ajit (Anand Tiwari) comes to Byomkesh to help him find his missing father. What seems a simple tale of person gone missing turns into an international conspiracy involving many countries, drugs, and multiple dead bodies.

One of the themes that pervades through the film is some sort of a sexual tension among the characters. There are strong sexual undercurrents that could be felt but are not explicit. The most perceptible one is between Byomkesh and Anguri Devi. She, in fact, seduces him by giving him a look of her svelte body, and her slender thigh and legs. Whenever Byomkesh asked her a question, she used her sexuality as a weapon to dodge him into submission, like the instance where she drags him to a room when he came to visit Sikdaar, and kisses him. Also, the instance where she asks her minion to bring Byomkesh to the bathroom, where again, she tries to allure him. These sexual undertones are prevalent in other characters, too, but are extremely understated. For instance, when Byomkesh opens Bhuvan Banerjee's paan box, he finds a pornographic booklet depicting various stages of coitus. Bhuvan Banerjee has a wife who is perhaps similar in age to his son Ajit. This and the booklet indicate an erotic nature of Bhuvan Banerjee. There is another such instance. There is a woman who is seen only as a blurred figure and stays in the room right opposite to Byomkesh's room. There are at least two instances where Byomkesh closes the door when he sees her underscoring a sort of a sexual tension between him and the lady. I also felt the instance where Dr. Guha revealed that he was a freedom fighter, and asked Byomkesh to join the movement, had strong homoerotic tones. The way that Dr. Guha puts his hand on Byomkesh's head, and tries to set his hair, and the way Byomkesh is repulsed by it highlighted this homoeroticism; also, not to forget the fact Dr. Guha puts a board outside his house that says, "Kewal purushon ke liye", that it is only for men. At a later instance, Ajit even remarks that Dr. Guha seems to love Byomkesh. I will be very curious to see Dr.Guha's or Yang Guang's sexual antics in the coming sequel (if at all). 

The other thing that is worth mentioning is the fallibility of Byomkesh. He is not some superhero or a wizard, he is a very ordinary man with no real special skill to really boast about. He is almost a loser. He gets beaten up by a man who is half his height. He does not work and has no friends, and plays carrom all by himself. He is no genius, rather he has to make his way in a world filled with geniuses. He does not even get his love as his girlfriend leaves him for a Chemistry gold medalist. He bangs his head into bird cages. He misses obvious clues that are right in front of him. He is fooled and seduced easily. At many places, he calls himself a fool and a moron. At one point, a newspaper report calls him Sherlock Holmes, and the scene where he introduces himself to Dr. Guha, he does by saying, "Bakshy, Byomkesh Bakshy," a reference to James Bond. But what is important is he is completely different from these two. He is not like the two of them, and his ordinariness sets him apart. In fact, he hates being called a detective (though I don't get why the film titled it as a detective), because he is a satyanweshi, someone who is seeking the truth as this delicious profile on him says. When he is being asked by Dr. Guha to go to the police, he says, "It is a case of murder, what has the police got to do with it?" He has no hesitation taking help from his ex-girlfriend's husband because he wants to know the truth. He pukes at the sight of the dead bodies; he is no strong-hearted Superman, but a somewhat clumsy ordinary human seeking truth, and perhaps, that explains his criminals are also ordinary, too. At one point during the end, he remarks, "Mere hisaab se vo ek bahut sadhaaran insaan hai, jo dhokebaaz hai aur kaayar bhi." He is no nationalist either. He cares nothing if Gandhi is in jail or out, he won't give money for his release. He has no hesitation working with the imperialist British police because he is only a satyanweshi. One of my absolutely favorite moments was the scene when Satyawati comes with her jewellery, and pleads Byomkesh to save her brother. He asks why only him, and she replies, "Kyunki aap dekh sakte hai." Byomkesh who all this while had a cloth over his eyes, then, takes it off, as if giving action to her words. That moment is his extraordinary ordinariness (to borrow a phrase from this piece); he can easily take the cloth from over his eyes to see the things which other people don't. He can see and that is his strength. He is not blinded by emotions and relationships. Note the instance when being asked by the police officer on who asked him to investigate Bhuvan's murder, he says, "Laash ke bete ne," only mentioning the name of the dead body later, because in his mind, all he sees is a dead body. 

Cannot see because of the cloth

Takes the cloth off to see things

Dibakar Banerjee creates a gorgeous Calcutta. Each shot is painstakingly detailed. The historical authenticity of the film can be questioned, but without a doubt he creates a fabulous world. At one instance, there is a splendid shot of Satyawati, when she visits Byomkesh in a burqa. There is a lone betel leaf and its image that is floating in the water tank, and it gives the impression of a shape of a heart. It is a beautiful, beautiful scene. The film is filled with such spectacular shots. Be it the sight of Calcutta shots from the windows of tram, the seedy underbelly of China town, or the sequences in Shanghai (which incidentally was also the name of Dibakar's last film), the visual effects of the film are par excellence.

At one instance, we see posters of two films—Alfred Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt, and Howard Hughes' The Outlaw. Dibakar's fascination for foreign directors is well known. Shadow of a Doubt is based on a perfect murder, and The Outlaw is based on story of a sex symbol; reading the plot of the two films gives clear indications of references in Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! too. There is another splendid shot during the chase scene when Sukumar's assistant is chasing Byomkesh and Ajit. Through the windows of an ambassador car, we see that a man first bumps into Ajit and Byomkesh, and then the same man bumps into Sukumar's assistant, later. It is a terrific shot, and is executed brilliantly. I am sure there is a Hollywood reference to this sequence, but given my lack of knowledge on that subject, I cannot validate. 

The Outlaw and Shadow of a Doubt

At one point, Byomkesh says, "Sach ke aas paas vala jhooth pakadna mushkil hota hai." A good lie is never far from the truth. Perhaps that explains the somewhat disappointing climax of the movie. In the first scene itself, Yang Guang comes and kills the Chinese drug dealers, and speaks something as well. From that voice, we know who Yang Guang is most likely to be, and it is only validated at the end. There was actually no suspense created; at the very least, Yang Guang should not have spoken anything and kept us guessing till the end. Though I kept thinking that I am wrong, at one point I assumed that Kanai (Meiyang Chang), and at another point, thought that Ajit was the killer, but it was Dr. Guha all along and it was only confirmed in the end. This was perhaps what the film tried to say when Dr. Guha came out as a freedom fighter. It might have been assumed that Dr. Guha's lie was closest to truth, and that was difficult to catch, but the fact they showed who Yang Guang was in the beginning, it became too easy to catch this lie. If the murder mystery was not intended, then, it is a different matter, but the feeling of disappointment in climax is for sure there. Even a dumb like me who is never able to guess the murderer in any film saw this, though the film did manage to confuse me that I might be wrong. 

Anguri Devi symbolized the capture and occupation of her city Rangoon. Her subjugation and need for love from Yang Guang was a representation of her city Rangoon, which was under Japanese control. The fact that she dies was again referring to the capture of Rangoon by the Japanese forces. I need to rewatch if the other characters were a representation of their cities. For instance, was Satyawati a representation of the city of Calcutta? She is beautiful, cultured, headstrong, but not completely independent, like the city of Calcutta itself.  And, the British Police Inspector Wilke always had a dog with him, was that some indication how Britishers treated India? Perhaps, that explains the scene where there is written History of Love on the board, and beneath that is written Sexual and Divine, and Feudalism and Oppression. The sexual and divine nature of Anguri Devi contrasts with feudalism and oppression of Rangoon. 

In the beginning, Byomkesh finds a book in Bhuvan Banerjee's suitcase, The Golden Book of Chemical Explorations. Interestingly, a book with the same exact cover is available on Amazon with the title The Golden Book of Chemical Experiments. I really like it that film changed the name to explorations, where it indeed takes us through an exploration of Strychnine rat poisons, invisible heroin, and addictive paan masalas.  

Later, Sukumar's assistant reads Inside Detective magazine. In what could be another use of a cinematic device, the same book of Chemical Explorations is seen hanging on a wire behind him, in addition to Life magazine. This Life magazine is again found at the sight of the murder where Sukumar's assistant, and Dr. Watanabe's assistant are found dead. It is irony that Life magazine is found where two people are found dead. Was the earlier scene where both the books were behind Sukumar's assitant some kind of indication of the impending death? We can only guess.

Both the books are the back

Life Magazine

There are some intriguing things which I have not been able to come up with a convincing explanation for:-
  • The fancy dress party where a man comes and says the policeman that he is wearing a nice dress, and he remarks that is his uniform. Was that a joke that the police is doing nothing and is only wearing dresses, while another man is saving Calcutta?
  • The joke on the damsel in distress, at two places Ajit calls Satyawati, "Bechari, Besahara."  What was that about?
  • The meaning of one eye between them. Why did Yang Guan gouge his own eye? An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind?
  • Was there any special significance of Hajmoll apart from the fact that it also had an addictive effect like heroin? There is a focus given to this product in the film.
  • Any meaning of the flowers that Satyawati was holding, and later the gardener was seen among them, and Dr. Watanabe was seen smelling.

  • Was Byomkesh's unibrow a reference to his one-dimensional world? He is somewhat stubborn, was this a way of representing this view?
  • Byomkesh takes a bath two times. Was there any special reason behind it?

One of my favorite characters was the servant Putiram (Pradipto Kumar Chakraborty). The way his hands shook when putting anything on the table, the way he emoted his eyes, the way he jumped over dead bodies on being asked to prepare tea and clean blood, he was simply fabulous. Another thing that stands out is the absolutely terrific music by Sneha Khanwalkar. She is a star. O Womaniya! If only they had used it more evenly in the film. And, the ending credits are simply gorgeous, one of the best ever made. 

Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! is a beautiful film. Although the pacing is slow, I don't have issue with films that are like that as long as its proceeds somewhere. It is not a perfect film, but any film of Dibakar is much better than some of the other run-of-the-mill stuff that we see everyday. Perhaps, perfection might be achieved in the sequel, and I will keep waiting for it. 

Dialogue of the Day:
"Hum jaise middle class log apne desh ke liye kabhi kuch karte hai ?" — Byomkesh
"Filmein dekhte hain. Chalo!" — Ajit

Yes, yes, let us all go :)

P.S.— Deliberately did not write femme fatale anywhere above, because there is just no review without it. Also, recommend to check out It is marvelous. Somehow, I am not able to write it the way I wanted, so, if simply cut the crap what I wrote and read the two best reviews here and here