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Have you ever had a relative in a small town? A town smaller than the one you live in, with fewer things to do and fewer places to go to than you would expect on a holiday? A town that, having quickly exhausted its meagre gifts of entertainment and diversions, lays open its quiet ennui for you to sample?
At that point, do you manage to find a quiet window in a quiet corner in your relative's house? And before that, while exploring when no one was looking, did you stumble upon a trunk under a bed stacked with dusty, cockroach-infested books an uncle left behind, having gone away?
And in that trunk do you find books with strange, faded covers with gore --- dripping letters, beautiful women screaming and dark, evil looking men grinning cruelly?
Or maybe the book is so old it doesn't have a cover picture at all. Instead, it is one of those old, tattered fabric-covered hardbacks with titles like A_ventur_s of Dete_tive_ B___o_______ B_____i embossed in faded gold letters that now look like dried blood smeared over a secret message...
You open the crackling page peppered with small bullet holes the bugs made. And there it is - written in purple fountain-pen ink now faded to pink --- To Booboon. On his thirteenth birthday. Ma. 1963.
The window has a ledge, right? Your aunt's cook made you a nice paratha, right? And a glass of chhaas maybe? And the folks have gone away to visit a cousin's cousin, isn't it? The alley outside the window is deathly quiet, shining in the hard, blinding summer-break sun. The whole neighbourhood cowers into an uneasy siesta. A lone red kite flies furtively in the sky. Even the birds chirp mutedly - as if a predator is at hand, creeping upon us. You turn to the first story. Byomkesh Arrives. It's about a spate of murders in the neighbourhood.
Congratulations. You've just discovered the perfect way to get introduced to Byomkesh Bakshi. I should know - because that's how I did it. And I imagine many before me did the same, because the first Byomkesh stories came out in the 1930s.
This gives us two whys.
1. Why do people still read Byomkesh?
2. Why do we need a hot afternoon in a quiet house in a small town to discover Byomkesh?
A detective story is all about the detective, the hero --- and his atmosphere. One cannot exist without the other.
Chandler once described a detective roughly as a good man in a bad, bad
world, hiding his goodness. An idealist up to his ears in selfishness,
corruption and crime; but essentially uncorrupted and incorruptible
He is cynical and hard-bitten, who knows how bad this world can be. He pities innocence and yet is ready to risk his life trying to save it. (And the world, by the way.)
Of course, he pretends he needs the money.
sometimes, like Byomkesh (who never had too much of money or the use
for it) he pretends he needs the mental exercise because he's too smart
and bored and needs to solve a problem of life and death.
But the truth is, under all that hard-bitten cynicism and that worldly smirk there lies a hero you may count on story after story, year after year, and in my case decade after decade to do the right thing.
Byomkesh always, always catches the criminal. He always protects the innocent. He is never greedy for money or a BMW. He is smart. Good smart. Not bad smart -- (the kind of smartness some people use to jump a queue or get an extra pizza free.) But the tough, no-nonsense smartness of figuring out things for oneself and not taking any nonsense from anyone. He is honest. He stands for truth. He even hates being called a detective. He likes Truth Seeker' better.
We also like to read Byomkesh because he shows us that being honest and good smart is way cooler than being a jumped-up idiot with a fancy car and a fancy house talking loudly in a fancy restaurant about his fancy holiday in Pattaya. (That's a place in Thailand where people sometimes go to show off, and needless to say a place Byomkesh never visited but look! We are still reading about him!)
And in a world where criminals sit inside parliaments, or hog prime time on television with fawning fans, or cheat other people and live on the 40th floor in eleven bedrooms - doing the right thing the Byomkesh way is kind of rare, isn't it?
Ace detective writers, like the creator of Byomkesh, know this secret. They know deep down we need a Byomkesh to set this wrong world right again and again.
That still leaves the window ledge unexplained. Why do we need a hot, silent afternoon dripping with menace to enjoy Byomkesh?
Remember atmosphere? That's the world the fictional detective operates in. The bad, evil, dangerous world he fights through. Why do we need that so badly in a good detective story?
Because you cannot tell a
story about the good without describing the bad. And because you cannot
make the hero win big without making his battle big.
So they do atmosphere. Bad, dangerous atmosphere. A shadowy, dark, menacing world of intrigue and devilish conspiracy. The tougher the puzzle, the harder we root for our hero when he solves the crime.
Often, that atmosphere becomes dark and shadowy quite literally. Remember all those stories and movies with dark back alleys in the night, a lone lamppost blinking in the fog and a black car with hooded headlights? Mere setting for our detective hero. Makes him look good.
But there is a subtler, smarter variety of the dangerous world that smarter detectives and their creators, like Byomkesh and Saradindu Banerjee, inhabit as atmosphere.
The everyday world right outside your window. The street in front of your house. Your friend's uncle's bungalow in Ooty, or Darjeeling, or Ranchi. A book shop. A sanatorium. A lone cyclist cycling down an empty street. A letter. A boarding house. Evil and criminal masterminds lurk right out there in the world you thought was so familiar. And when Byomkesh unmasks some devilish criminal right in the midst of his benign neighbours, you shudder harder. Who knew? Who could have thought?
It's real. Like your relative's window
ledge. Like the hot, lazy afternoon. That intermittent bird calling
could be the arch criminal calling his henchmen to move in. Or that red
kite up in the sky could be the signal that murder has been committed.
Anything is possible. And all this while tea is being served!
Byomkesh's world is very ordinary. Very middle class. What's more, very, very Indian. He doesn't wear a fedora hat or a tacky overcoat on rent from Maganlal Dresswala (like most filmy detectives who copy the American gumshoe). He wears the ordinary dhoti kurta of the Bengali bhadralok. He may walk out to the street corner shop for an after dinner meetha paan while solving a grisly murder.What's more, his nemesis, the arch criminal, might be quite content to have a nice meal of fish curry and rice before planning world domination or the cocaine monopoly of the eastern hemisphere with chilling, cold-blooded efficiency.
Real people are villains here. People you and I could know easily in our ordinary lives. Yet these very ordinary, real people, unknown to us, are planning something horribly twisted.
And in story after story, like the ones in this book, Byomkesh's mind runs faster than light and cuts sharper than a Teflon razor to bring these diabolical criminal to justice. No shoot-outs. No car chases. No explosions. Just a brain. Lot of logic and courage. And the will to expose the truth. And that makes Byomkesh not only look good, and good smart ---but real.
real as that window ledge in a sleepy little town. Because at the time
they were written, they were commonplace. Booboon, sitting on that ledge
in 1963, would have felt the real, immediate thrill of Byomkesh's
I'm convinced that if Saradindu had written Byomkesh today, he would have been taking the metro or checking out the nearest multiplex for clues to catch the murderer. The villain would have worn cargo shorts. And you would have felt the thrill in your bones just as if it was happening to you.
And if you've bought this book off the Net or at the nearest mall and don't have that window ledge in your flat, do not despair. All you need to do is to imagine that there is real nasty business happening out there and there's someone real smart to stop it. That's what Booboon felt in 1963 as he curled up with his Byomkesh.
The truth is, a real, convincing detective doing extraordinary things in an ordinary world works in every age.
Because without people like Byomkesh, it'll be a bad, bad world to live in. It was true in 1963. And it's true now.
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Director Dibakar Banerjee's Detective Byomkesh Bakshy is all set to wrap up this week. The look and setting of the film was successfully kept under wraps for a long time and the team shot major portions of the film in and around Kolkata without any trouble. Over the last four days of the shoot, the crew filmed several crucial scenes, while making sure that the local media and tourism promoters don't click photographs and leak them. Although the film has wrapped up, it requires extensive post production work, due to which the release date of the film has been finalised as February 13 2015. As the film is set in the 1940s, the set up will showcase the lifestyle of the people who were living during the turbulent times of World War II. Additionally, a lot of VFX will be used to reflect the old world charm and a source confessed that the use of animation will be out-of-the-box; a lot along the lines of Dhoom 3. Vandana Kataria has designed the sets.
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Sshhh, it's Sushant!
|t2 trailed SUSHANT SINGH RAJPUT as he hopped the party hot SPOTS on Saturday night!|
In town for a day's shoot for Dibakar Banerjee's Detective Byomkesh Bakshi, Sushant Singh Rajput hit the party trail on Saturday night...
London Street Cafe @ 12.15am
Settling down in the AC corner with a sugar-free Red Bull, the 28-year-old looked pretty happy. "I was very happy to know Calcutta's temperature is just 23 degrees, with partial clouds and rainfall. A few days back I was in Goa and it was so hot!" said Sushant, who loved the faux London street lamps at the cafe on the first floor of The Samilton hotel. At 12.50am, he got up to leave but not before scribbling "lovely ambience, food & hospitality " Love SSR" on the message board. "It's a cool place. I really liked the decor and the padded headrests. And I have lamps like these at my place," the actor told cafe owners Akbar Ali Agwan, Vineet Agarwal and Mazhar Badgujar.
Roxy @ 1am
Sushant pulled his cap to cover his face as he walked into a packed Roxy but made a quick turnaround. But trust the PYTs to spot a star even from a half-hidden profile! Oh, the Kai Po Che! hero is here!" shrieked one, Oh my god, I think Sushant Singh Rajput just passed by me!' squealed another.
Nocturne @ 1.10am
At Nocturne, a fan frenzy broke out with requests for pictures. Sushant obliged with a smile and then chose a corner with a sip in hand as DJ Iimrran played David Guetta's remixed version of Shot Me Down. "I really like this song. It was in the Kill Bill movie," he told a fan. SSR was in the mood to dance but with the last track being announced, the Bolly hottie headed for the night's last stop " The Basement.
Sip, bite & puff:
"Salmon, prawns with a lot of leafy veggies but no oil and spice" made up Sushant's dinner before he stepped out for the night. Later, he munched on Salad Dressing Chicken Platter with sugar-free Red Bull and puffed on orange-supari-gum flavoured hookah.
"The movie I am working on now is Paani (being directed by Shekhar Kapur) which requires me to be on a strict healthy diet... The movie has a Hollywood actress opposite me and a Hollywood actor as the villain. John Travolta (inset) was at the IIFA Awards this time, it was like his introduction to Bollywood... Well, that's a hint which I can give!" grinned Sushant.
Text: Pramita Ghosh
Pictures: Anindya Shankar Ray
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