What was perhaps the most-awaited session of the Kolkata Bookfair begins, to nobody’s surprise, to thunderous applause as Dhritiman Chatterjee, Abir Chatterjee and Sujoy Ghosh take the stage. The topic of “Byomkesh Through the Ages” is tossed into the enthusiastic milieu as the evening sits up to take close notes.
Mr Tridib Kumar Chatterjee, the moderator, begins with an introduction to the character of Byomkesh, that charismatic, very not-for-children, very not-a-superhero that we all love. Our bespectacled hero has been interpreted and re-interpreted many times, even by Feluda’s creator, Satyajit Ray. With memories of last year’s “Feluda Gen Next” session, which also included Abir (lucky chap!), we begin discussing the other favourite Bengali detective that has been making waves on reel.
“We began shooting in 2009, on 19th July,” says Abir, as I privately marvel at his memory. “When I realised that I was actually taking up this project, it took a while to sink in. I hadn’t visualised myself as the character I had read about in class seven! I prepared by rereading those stories. I did retain some of Uttam Babu’s mannerisms, although I didn’t follow him.”
“I am a child of the eighties, so it was quite difficult,” Abir grins. Mr Dhritiman Chatterjee quips,”Do you even know how to wear it?” at which the moderator, in mock horror, asks, “Oh god, was it one of those with elastic waists?!”
“No no, I still don’t know how to wear it, but I do know how to keep it on,” our youngest detective laughs.
“With so many people playing Byomkesh- Jisshu, Sushant Singh Rajput, Gaurab- all at the same time, there is no point of reference. It’s the same case with Sherlock Holmes. Robert Downey Jr and Benedict Cumberbatch have their own versions simultaneously. So I’m not concerned with how the canon is interpreted. What I worry about is carrying through the director’s vision. I restrict myself to the screenplay. I did the same with Pratidwandi,”says the stalwart of Indian cinema.
What else decides why you want to do the character? asks Mr Tridib Chatterjee.
“There are certain formulaic replies, which Abir is learning!” says Mr Chatterjee. “For me, the comfort level with the director, cast and crew is a huge factor. It must not feel like, ‘Oh, god, I have to go again today.’ If it does, there’s probably something wrong.”
“Yes, of course,” he says. “But it is a risk we thought might pay off and hence decided to take. There are so many versions of Byomkesh out there. Why not this?”
What is Sujoy Ghosh’s Byomkesh of the piercing gaze like? How close was he to Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay’s Byomkesh?
“I tried my hand at Byomkesh because Rituda did not get dates with Abir,” says Mr Ghosh, deadpan, as the audience explodes into laughter. “When he asked me to, I thought he meant off camera. It’s very difficult to say no to Rituda, so I agreed, but it was a good experience. Rituda, being Rituda, brought in new characters all over. I feel like the final product could not reflect the script, which was remarkable- clear, fluid. Initially, he had intended Byomkesh to commit a premeditated murder. Unfortunately, it did not translate in the film. But it was an unusual, risky and very engaging plan.”
Is this proliferation of Byomkesh-es desirable?
“Why not?” he asks. “The fun is in the variety. Let all interpretations live.”
“It’s releasing on December 9th,” says Mr Ghosh, to hoots from the crowd. There you go- you heard it first here! (Or not. I’m not placing bets.)
“I am a greedy artist. I want it all,” says Abir, ever the diplomat.
“It’s not just literature. Byomkesh is now a saleable property, so of course everyone wants it. It’s a slightly controversial topic,” says Mr Chatterjee. “But if anyone does it seriously, sincerely, I would love to participate.”
Will Mr Ghosh direct a Byomkesh? “I don’t know. I loved Byomkesh as a boy. Now, the way we see detective stories globally, perhaps it is a little dated. I think we need to revamp it as BBC has done with Sherlock, because I don’t know how the character may connect otherwise,” says Mr Ghosh.
The session ends with the audience officially blessing Abir’s unfaithfulness to his detectives, as a member admires the way he has adapted to both. The note of praise, love and celebration rings truer in the air than any academic discussion on the merits of Byomkesh could ever have done.
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