RECENT hit film and TV serial adaptations have increased the popularity of Sherlock Holmes around the world.
The Indian answer to the popular sleuth is legendary detective Byomkesh Bakshy, who was created by Bengali writer Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay and first appeared in print in 1932. Such
was the popularity of the 32 books in the series that the detective appeared on stage, film and television serial adaptations over the years.
The first modern cinematic version of the well-loved character is big-budget film Detective Byomkesh Bakshy, directed by acclaimed filmmaker Dibakar Banerjee and starring Sushant Singh
Rajput in the title role.
The origin story shows how an ordinary guy takes his first steps towards becoming a legendary detective in the1940s-set crime caper. The in-demand Sushant traded in his heroic looks and
chiselled physique to get under the skin of the popular Bengali detective.
Eastern Eye caught up with the softly-spoken actor to find out more about one of the year’s most anticipated movies, his detective character, acting method on the film, why he would willingly go back to working on television, passions away from work and more.
You have had an incredible few years in cinema and are very much in demand. Have you had a chance to enjoy your amazing success?
Of course, I have done that. The kind of films I have been doing and the filmmakers who I have been working with is like I am living my dream. Working with (directors like) Dibakar Banerjee,
Abhishek Kapoor and Shekhar Kapur was my dream and I am living it. So I can’t expect anything else.
How have you been selecting the films you have been doing because they have been very different from each other?
When I say yes to a film, it’s a very personal decision. I do it for myself and then I give my best. I try to explore and learn in the process, and when I am done shooting for the film, I think back and believe people should come and watch it. I am getting to do the kind of films that I want to do. So yes, it is very personal choosing films and I will keep doing the same thing.
What would you say attracted you to Detective Byomkesh Bakshy?
It’s a very different interpretation of the same thing that we have been doing since the last 40 years or more. Byomkesh was written many years back and there have been so many different interpretations of it. I think I am the 75th Byomkesh if you consider theatre, television, soaps and films together. So the idea of doing the same thing in a completely different way, but keeping the
essence of his life was very fascinating. To also understand why Kolkata was so important to the British in the 1940s was interesting. It was the most important city for them in India and the second most important after London in the world. So that was really fascinating for me.
All these ideas appealed to me a lot. Doing Byomkesh in a way that nobody has ever seen before was very interesting.
Did you look at any of the previous interpretations of the legendary detective?
No I didn’t, Asjad. I was asked by my director to not watch any videos of any previous interpretations, although I was asked to read all 32 stories that have been written on Byomkesh and the fact that they talked about Calcutta in the 1940s at length and its culture as it was important to the script. So reading the books helped, but I was told not to watch any videos because you know,
subconsciously you can pick up something that has already been done.
Actually this is the first Byomkesh case (in this film). In all the interpretations that we have seen before, he has been very seasoned and knew what he was doing. This guy in the film gets transformed into Byomkesh and that was very exciting.
I love the look of your character. How did you decide on it?
We did our homework. I saw a lot of films from the 1940s and 1950s, a number of films by (Bengali director) Satyajit Ray as well as films Dibakar had ready. He knew exactly what he was
looking for and what he wanted. He asked me to lose weight and asked me to adopt very Bengali mannerisms. We got it within a few weeks of the research.
What can you tell us about the story?
You know, Calcutta in the 1940s was such a different time. Everybody was so seduced and looking at the city. The Japanese were there, the American GIs were there, so were the Chinese and of
course, the British. The opium trade was happening and the underworld was very active.
So it was very international. At that time in the 1940s when everybody was doing the same thing, Byomkesh wanted to become a detective. This film will explore all of these ideas and how he becomes one.
What is it like for an actor to work with such a good director like Dibakar Banerjee?
It was great, of course. In eight years of my career in theatre, television and films, I was always told what to do and then improve on that. This guy told me what not to do, he never told me
what to do. In my head, I was coming up with all these improvisations, which were very honest and very personal. Now when I look back, I think maybe Dibakar always knew what he
wanted (and steered me towards that without me realising it). It was an organic progression and a very honest approach. That is why I feel that playing Byomkesh now has been the most
honest approach as far as I am concerned to any character I’ve played.
Do you have a favourite moment in the movie?
Yes, there are many. We were looking at the same thing in a completely different way, so it meant that there were many memorable scenes.
Dipakar gave me different approaches to scenes and made me think about different things.
Like in one instance, when this guy was dying in front of me, I was thinking about all these emotions – that I was desperate, angry with myself and slightly scared. But he said, ‘have you seen
anybody dying in front of you before’? I said ‘no’. He said, ‘what is the first thing you think about if someone died in front of you?’ I said, ‘maybe I will be shocked’, but then he told me,
‘you might be fascinated’. This idea of being fascinated was a completely different concept.
So we tried it, keeping all those thoughts in my mind. I was not trying to play to the gallery – just the sheer thought of being fascinated about somebody dying in front of you changed
that scene completely.
So there were many incidents throughout the film like that, where I tried a different approach and learned something from it.
What are your biggest non-film passions?
I love reading books, I love watching films, I love long drives when I am alone. I also love playing games on the PS 4.
Do you miss working on television?
I absolutely do miss it. Sometimes we have prejudices about people working on TV, but I will tell you, all the technicians and the actors on television are so skilled. They have to come up
with something new and interesting every single day just to keep the audiences engaged. I am thinking about coming back with something on digital media and television very soon.
So yes, I do miss working on the small screen.
How much do your fans mean to you?
When I say yes to a film, when I do the research and then shoot it, the process is very personal to me. I do it for myself. But yes, the validation and feedback from my fans is always welcome.
When they like my work, I get motivated to work even harder. So they are very very important to me.
Why should we all go watch Detective Byomkesh Bakshy?
Because in all the films we have seen until now, the detective is very seasoned, and knows what he is doing. Whereas in this film, because it’s his first case and he is tempted,
he gets himself into a very complicated case. We see an amateur boy turn into this great detective. The whole process of that was very exciting, and I think
people can relate to it.
So would you make more in the series if this film is successful?
Of course. We have bought the rights to all the 32 stories in the series written by Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay. If we are successful in the first film, I would definitely come back
for another 31 stories.
Detective Byomkesh Bakshy is out now.