Arindam Sil’s Har Har Byomkesh is one of those films which even bring the bar of mediocrity to such a low that makes it next to impossible to engage with, at least in cinematic terms. The image, the sound, the narrative and the performances follow the standard homogeneous template set by the leading production house of Bengali Cinema that successfully effaces out any sense of distinct style of any member of the cast and crew, especially the director, even considering there was any sign of those present in the first place.
In a film as insipid and forgettable as Har Har Byomkesh, all one can talk about is probably the idea of adapting a detective fiction on screen. When it comes to adaptations, there have been ample instances of both the extremes throughout the history of cinema. There have been films which are completely faithful to the source material with next to none of intervention, directorial or otherwise. And there have been films where the auteur vision has been so pronounced that the film finally bore little resemblance to the original text. While both of these practices have produced their fair share of classics, it is often interesting to see the films, which more or less remain faithful to the source material but deviating at specific points wherein the intention of the writer-director and his interpretation of the text can be traced and thus becomes a truly enjoyable cinephillic viewing exercise.
In case of the Arindam Sil film, points of deviation from the source text (Banhi Patanga) are as abundant in number as they are pointless in their contribution to the cinematic experience of the film. To begin with the setting of the film is shifted from Patna to Varanasi, the character of the cop Pandey-ji is turned into a vegetarian and throughout the first half of the film there is a lot of screen time dedicated to religious rituals, both trifling and grand. Needless to say, saffron dominates the color palette and the vision is palpably Hindu in nature. Setting aside the fact, that all these changes contribute not even an iota to the narrative, the contemporary socio-political climate of the nation might have a significant indication about the film’s political position. Among this carnival of superficiality, there is one scene where a crowd of sadhus clad in saffron climbs down the steps to the river chanting “Har Har Mahadev!” as Byomkesh and Ajit walks amid the crowd in the opposite direction dressed in pristine white. Probably for the first time in history, a director wrote, shot and kept an entire scene just to justify the title of the film!
Another thing, becoming almost symptomatic of contemporary Bengali directors pretending to be serious, is the series of loose references to Satyajit Ray amounting to nothing but a ridiculous shadow fight. Right from the words go, the film seems impaled on its own sword as it staggers under the baggage of Ray’s Feluda film Joy Baba Felunath, set in Varanasi. Again with zero contribution in cinematic terms, the film revisits and recreates places and elements encountered in the Ray film in a manner that is both random and shallow. Taking references do not merely stop here as Byomkesh and his wife Satyabati keep discussing Jaidev’s celebrated erotic text Geeta Govindam in different scenes. Getting into reasoning and speculation will only be repetitive for this article.
There are numerous other instances such as Chandni being turned into an enigmatic seductress and then giving it a rather fizzled out closure, putting in chase sequences to boost the kinetic energy of an otherwise dull screenplay and Byomkesh unnecessary playing clever games with one of the antagonists which once more actually amounts to nothing. In fact throughout the duration, the film has been trying very hard to rely merely on a glossy production design and thus being clever and get away with what is otherwise a complete mess of a film. And like any such attempt, within the first few minutes, the film chokes and falls flat on its face and as the rhyme taught us, “All the king’s horses and all the king’s men. Couldn’t put Humpty together again”.
Arup Ratan Samajdar
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