Har Har Byomkesh: A Bengali in Banaras

A scene in the latter half of Har Har Byomkesh sees Byomkesh lying next to his wife. It’s late in the night and she has passed out. Immersed in deep thought about the ongoing case that’s getting increasingly murky, the Bengali detective has one of his fingers unconsciously touching the gemstone of one of her wife’s rings. Half-asleep, he slips into a bad dream, a dream about being seduced by another woman, a potential suspect even.

The most engaging portions of the new Byomkesh film, directed by Arindam Sil, are when it delves into the psychological complexities of its dhoti-clad detective in order to solve a case that seems connected by a Raja Ravi Varma-style painting of Shakuntala, the position of an electric switch board, the mystical verses of Geet Govind that his wife reads out every night and the deep, dark family secrets of Raja Deepnarayan Singh of Benaras.

What the new film does well and better than most of the other films made in Bengali cinema in the past few years is give Byomkesh the visual and emotional headspace it deserves. As he hallucinates, scrutinises a painting or simply waits near an ancient site for a secret meeting, the film moves in a relaxed pace soaking in the atmospherics of Benaras. Bikram Ghosh’s lounge tinged Hindustani classical soundscape helps. This is definitely the most visually-pleasant Bengali Byomkesh movie. There is a nice flow to the proceedings although the plot-points aren’t particularly exciting. It is partly because of the good casting — the actors’ faces in perfect sync with the name of the characters: the warm and comforting Satyavati (Sohini Sarkar) or the potential seductress in sari and ghunghat Chandni (Rachele White).

Abir Chatterjee, who returns to play Byomkesh after taking a break, wears the ‘Bengali intelligent’ look pretty well although his dialogue delivery is sometimes too stagey. Sil also tries something new with the way he handles his Bengali characters in a Hindi speaking context. Instead of taking the suspension of going full Bengali, he allows his Byomkesh to switch into Bangla midway into a sentence being spoken in Hindi: Byomkesh’s most famous punchline also arrives in Chatterjee’s Bengali-accented Hindi — “Main Satyanweshi Hoon”.

It lends the film a certain casualness that helps it to free itself from all the period stiffness.

For all its good things, Har Har suffers from major problem that has plagued all the Byomkesh films: the expository nature of the format that eventually ends with the detective explaining and straightening it out to the other characters of the film as well as audience. It’s the same reason why Satyajit Ray wasn’t happy with his own Byomkesh movie, the Uttam Kumar starrer Chiriyakhana that many consider his weakest film. The format works when the revelations feel like a rug-puller, a real surprise for the audience. Har Har Byomkesh tries hard to connect the metaphysical with the mundane, but it feels manufactured. You can see them coming well before they are brought in front. As a result Har Har Byomkesh never feels like a sum greater than its parts.

Arindam Sil

Cast: Abir Chatterjee, Ritwik Bhattacharya, Sohini Sarkar, Nusrat Jahan, Rachelle White, Adil Hussain, Harsh Chhaya

Run time: 110 mins

Story: Byomkesh’s holiday in post-independence Benaras with his wife Satyavati and sidekick Ajit goes awry when a zamindar, who had played host to them, is murdered

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Printable version | Dec 6, 2020 4:49:24 AM |

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