Friday, August 10, 2012

Signs of the Times: 'Abar Byomkesh'

When Abar Byomkesh was released earlier this year amidst much fanfare and trailing sky-high expectation, I was eager to see how Abir Chatterjee performs this time. I’d liked his performance last time. This time, too, it wasn’t too bad, if not better. However, the scar on his face goes unexplained. It is a visible scar, and the director could easily formulate an alternative Byomkesh mythology tracing its history to some childhood fight, something serious enough to transform him into a satyanneshi (detective; literally, the seeker of truth). As it is, the scar makes Byomkesh more of Mr Chatterjee than Mr Bakshi.
 A viewer would like the background-score, especially when it unfurls in full length during the opening credits. A nice hotchpotch of the theme-music of Batman and Tintin franchises, it helps set up the viewer for some adrenaline-rush. That is something the viewer comes expecting to the cinema, only to be fed with domestic trifles. There’s no scope for any adventurousness, with the unimaginative director not sure whether to stick to the storyline of Chitrochor or stray. Stray he does a lot, and unnecessarily. The strayings could have been made stirring. They tickle you at the wrong spots.
 An ill-researched film, it fails to catch the ethos of pre-independence India. Bengalis, especially the intellectuals, were then not known for their alcoholophilia. Bengalis, like the British, were more used to having tea-parties. This unnecessary change, added to the unrealistic clothes Rajani, the doctor’s paramour, deprives the viewer from a journey to the past, a must for a Byomkesh film.
 Is realism a necessity? No, this film invites the viewer to imagine ‘visual asides’. There are scenes when two parties, not quite on the best of terms, are both hide from a third party, and pretend that they can’t see one another. The viewer has to pretend, for it’s hard and not worthwhile to imagine that there’s nothing wrong with it. If theatrical imagination is what the director had aimed at, he could’ve filmed his scenes inside his studio, or still better, made a play to aid the ailing Bengali theatre.

 Indeed, I’m not so much bothered about the film as about why this couldn’t be made better. I’d list the causes roughly as this:
Reason 1: Kolkata film directors are myopic creatures. They can’t think of featuring an actor not known to them outside their ‘parties’.
Reason 2: They’re first ‘intellectuals’, next filmmakers. So, their main effort is towards making an ‘intelligent’ film (or, at least taking up an ‘intelligent’ story for it), rather than making a ‘film’. As the end-result, we have unintelligent non-films.
Reason 3: Unfamiliarity with the language (Bengali, in this case) and its regional variations (or, richness, to be more exact). The director should not forget that the vast majority of Bengalis don’t talk like affected Kolkatans.
Reason 4: Refusal to take time. Ignorance of regional films produced in other parts of India. A cursory familiarity with Bergman and Ray is not enough.
Reason 5: Quite frankly, lack of expertise.
Reason 6: Pseudo-urbanism/urbanity.
I wouldn’t say I could go on. There are still promising directors working on interesting projects. India is a land of promises. D L Ray said (read, says), ‘That land is made of dreams and bordered by memories.’ Works best for Bengal and its recent filmic endeavours.   

 I have come across people who’ve liked Abar Byomkesh. How do you translate this? The Return of Byomkesh, perhaps? I should say, it’s more the return of mediocrity.

 Come on, don’t we have film-directors and actors in the villages?