Byomkesh: Indian man of mystery

Bengali writers have made some of the major contributions to Indian literature. They are truly responsible for creating characters, which have been revisited by many. Be it “Devdas” or “Tagore’s” immortals, Bongs are right up there. Even, when it comes to Indian detectives the names Byomkesh Bakshi and Feluda are ones which spring up above and beyond. Not that we have a plethora of private eye’s to choose from. This piece is in appreciation of the content available on the Indian man of mystery.

 Created in 1932 by Saradindu Bandopadhyay a pioneer Bengali writer, we can see the influence of the existing fictional characters in his works majorly of “Sherlock Holmes”. But the setting of the pre-colonial Kolkata and the Indian characters and settings really makes Saradindu’s omnibus such an engaging read.

Though I believe that the original Bengali version would be amazing to read, the two translated versions are not too bad either. Sreejata Guha has actually done an incredible job, some of the interesting stories out of the 33 mystery stories penned by Saradindu.

Though the choice of the stories is a tad odd, but a majority of these translations are praise-worthy. Thanks to Sreejata Guha we actually get to read about Byomkesh. But the stories of “ Satyanveshi” “Pother Kanta” or the “Gramophone Mystery” and the thoroughly enjoyable “Makroshor Ras” or “The Venom of the Tarantula”. But the piece of work by Saradindu Bandhopadhyay which takes away the cake is “Chiriyakhana” or ”The Menagerie” and “Chitrochor” or the “ Picture Imperfect”.  The greatness of the Byomkesh stories is testified by the fact that, genius filmmakers and maverick directors like Satyajit Ray and Basu Da have made the silver screen and the small screen versions, which have left an indelible impression on mystery loving aficionados in India. The quest for the ultimate Indian sleuth is somewhat completed with Byomkesh. Though I personally felt that after reading and watching the stories, I somehow prefer the book as compared to the visual media version. Although I have to see the Bengali film of the same name “Chiriyakhana” I’m perefer the book. 

Altough must admit that certain screen adaptations like that of  “ Makorshar Rosh” adapted as “Makdi Ka raas” in 1992 in the popular Television series Byomkesh Bakshi is probably one of the best adaptations. The scene where Ajit suggests that one of the suspects actually gets his venom from the spiders in the room and the witty remark by Byomkesh cracks you up big time.   But equally disappointing is the “Chiriyakhana” directed by Satyajit Ray, with Uttam Kumar in the lead.  The film tends to offer a host of characters which are diabolical but fail to light up the screen due to some uninspiring direction.

However in the 1992 TV series episode of “Tasveer chor” or “Chitrochor” is just about good but not outstanding. On first look however the mystery elements in the murder mysteries might seem more intriguing, but the treatment in case of the theft or non- murder mysteries are adapted much better on screen.

I have to mention that Byomkesh Bakshi was played to perfection by Rajit Kapur, in his portrayal of Byomkesh. Be it the bhadralok mannerisms, the clothing, expressions, everything has been par excellence. He has been a major reason to make the television series memorable, correction the most memorable TV series of all times on Doordarshan.  Although I personally feel that when you actually compare the scale and the overall look of tv series like “Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” or “Poirot” BBC’s production  steals the thunder. The detailing in these programs is simply impeccable and awe-inspiring.

But Byomkesh’s magic does work and certainly leaves a lasting impression on you. As far as the Indian masses are concerned, it’s actually the closest we could ever get in terms of taking pride in our very own Indian sleuth.


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