Nestled in the conference room at one of Bollywood's prestigious production house, Yash Raj Films, director Dibakar Banerjee is patiently interacting with the journalists about his upcoming movie 'Detective Byomkesh Bakshy', while sipping on to his coffee. We settle down for an interview where Dibakar is beaming with enthusiasm to answer questions about his movie 'Detective Byomkesh Bakshy', working with current heartthrob Sushant Singh Rajput and more. Excerpts from the interview:
Detective Byomkesh Bakshy is a unique noir films in a long time. How did you think of the treatment for the movie?
I have no idea. When I first wrote the treatment of Byomkesh in 2007, it had the lot of graphic novel undertone. The imagery of mid Calcutta used to excite me. Byomkesh for me was a dhoti clad man, travelling in tram, buying pan and solving a mystery just the archetypical way a detective would do, but in an Indian setting. Everything was completely Indian. That is what attracted me.
What attracted you to do Byomkesh?
Byomkesh is a full-fledged detective for all ages. Reading Byomkesh is much more cinematic and I wanted to turn the literary material into its true cinematic cousin. Byomkesh in hindi and to bring about this very Indian detective from mid-century Calcutta was the image that excited me.
What are your early memories of Byomkesh as a child?
My early memories of Byomkesh are that I was forbidden to read the book because it was considered to be slightly adult. So when you are 12, you are told read Byomkesh after you are 16. The next memory of Byomkesh is the densely packed words in those pages and the visual imagery it immediately evoked. For me every line and between every line was another story.
Was that why you wanted to show the character established right from the start?
Was that thought always in your mind?
I did not always wanted to do that. It came out when Urmi and I started rewriting the first draft that I had written. When Urmi asked me why we are doing this story, which is where the idea came to explore the detective as a human being.
There were reports that initially you had approached Rajkummar Rao for Byomkesh's role but things didn't work. So then what made you think that Sushant would be the right choice?
Who approached Rajkummar Rao? Though he is my favourite actor, I never approached him for 'Detective Byomkesh Bakshy' because I wanted a much more physical Byomkesh. Rajkummar is definitely closer to our imagination of Byomkesh but I wanted someone different.
How difficult was it to fit Sushant in that Kolkata milieu?
It wasn't difficult but it just took lot of work. And both of us knew it will take lot of work. What we did was that we prepared and workshopped well and then Sushant just landed up in Kolkata anonymously. He walked through the streets of Kolkata at the risk of being mobbed and managed to interact with people, spending time with Bengali families, learning how to eat and walk the Bengali way. All these aspects of physicality of the character were what we pushed through. Then we rehearsed with the script. He became obsessive with the character. He lost 12 kgs. Sushant became an insomniac during the shoot of 'Detective Byomkesh Bakshy'. He cut off from the life and nobody knew how to get in touch with him.
Did your extended family and friends help you in designing the era that you planned to show in the movie?
I was pretty much clear about the era that I was showing. It was an exciting era because Calcutta was at the cusp of history. There was political turmoil and independence struggle. The loyalties were torn between the two - should we be with the imperial power that has been with us for last 150 years of should we align ourselves with new imperial power to drive the old one out. Me being a Bengali did really help because I could read Byomkesh in original and get the essence. It did help tremendously. But I have never lived in Calcutta. I had to research about 1943 Calcutta. It was not only about the history but other nuances - like the bestselling cigarette brand, sound of ghanti, how were the trams etc. My extended family helped me in telling is minute details of that era. Everybody had intimate memories of this huge historical event.
You were carrying the idea of this movie for quite some time. Was it difficult to hold on to the idea for long?
Actually it evolves and it changes. Thankfully I had enough time to develop the idea into what it is today. So in a way it helped and all my films from 'Khosla Ka Ghosla' to 'Bombay Talkies' only accumulated the experience to handle this film better.
In one of your interviews you said, you wanted to bring back Bengal noir back into the cinema. What do you mean by that?
Bengal noir is my own personal term for my favourite genre of stories. There are many pulpy stories - like Black Shadow, In the Forest of the Bandits, The Fork etc. It was a curious mish mash of Bengali sartorial taste and the western noir film. That is what is there in my movie.
Which is your favourite Byomkesh film?
I haven't seen any Byomkesh film recently because I didn't want to influence myself. I didn't want to get impacted by any Byomkesh film. And my Byomkesh film is different. So I genuinely wanted to stay away from it.
What certification has Censor Board given to 'Detective Byomkesh Bakshy'?
Byomkesh has been passed with U/A certificate. I faced no problem in the certification of the movie. There were minor cuts in the movie regarding few violent scenes, which were expected. In fact the Censor committee was beaming when we went inside to show the film. They really liked it.
Is there anything else you are working on after this film?
After this, I am preparing 'Titli' for the release. Apart from that I am not working on anything else.
What do you have to say about the leaked script and video of 'Detective Byomkesh Bakshy'?
I really cannot comment anything on this. I will have to check with the team.