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Byomkesh Bakshi Season 5: Ace Cinematographer Soumik Haldar Debuts as a Director

25 Feb, 2020 | Short Features by Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri
Anirban Bhattacharya and Suprobhat Das in a scene from Byomkesh

The Bengali’s engagement with Byomkesh Bakshi continues unabated, and Season 5 of the web series is another winner from SVF’s stable

A number of films in the last decade and four seasons of a popular web series – and the Bengali viewer’s love affair with Sharadindu Bandopadhyay’s popular detective shows no sign of waning. It is not difficult to figure why. In a key scene in Season 5 of the series, Byomkesh tries to explain the complications of the case to a befuddled Ajit and a police officer. Enacted with wonderful flair by Anirban Bhattacharya, the scene leaves not only the detective breathless but also the viewer trying to figure out the who’s who of the case. In the convoluted relationships that the detective sketches on the blackboard lie the charm of this season of Byomkesh Bakshi, and indeed of the web adaptations that have gone before. 
 

Anirban Bhattacharya and Suprobhat Das as the iconic duo Byomkesh and Ajit
Like in the previous seasons, what holds it together is another fine performance by Anirban
Season 5 weaves together two stories, ‘Dushta Chakra’ and 'Khunji Khunji Naari’, set against the backdrop of the Bengal famine. Like in the previous seasons, what holds it together is another fine performance by Anirban. As he had mentioned in an earlier interaction, it is impossible to bring about variation in the same character over multiple episodes but Anirban manages to do that consistently – this time lending the character a subtle manic urgency that I had not seen in the previous seasons.
 
Ridhima Ghosh as Satyabati
The highlight of Season 5 is of course its director, Soumik Haldar.
The highlight of Season 5 is of course its director, Soumik Haldar. One of Bengali cinema’s leading cinematographers – with films like Professor Shonku O El Dorado, Durgeshgorer Guptadhon, Ahare Mon, Jaatishwar, Baishe Srabon, Khaad, among many others to his credit – Soumik makes his directorial debut with the current season of Byomkesh. ‘It’s always been a dream of becoming a director for a long time. After passing out of FTII Pune in 2000 and working as a cinematographer for close to twenty years, directing something on my own is what I was waiting for,’ says Soumik. ‘It was great putting on the director’s shoe and I felt a bit nervous and tense. But as the shoot progressed, I got a hold on it and with the help of an immensely solid team of technicians I think I managed to pull it off pretty well.’

Given the many versions of the character we have already seen, how challenging was it to overcome viewer fatigue? ‘Since I had already shot two Byomkesh films as a cinematographer, I have experienced the essence of the emotion of the stories. My intention was to stay true to the story and emotion of the characters portrayed. Since Anirban is a brilliant actor, he made it easy to execute what I had in mind.’
 
A scene from Byomkesh Season 5
As Soumik says, ‘I have tried to execute it in such a way that it looks as good and grand as cinema. At the same time, it is essential to hold the drama of the story in a realistic manner.’
The web versions are truer to the original stories and rarely take the liberties the cinematic ones do. As a result, there’s a certain static quality to the narrative and yet it is to the credit of the cinematographer in Soumik that the visuals have the lushness of the big screen. Also, he does a pretty good job of managing to create the era within the limitations of the medium – and in that the production design adds great value. As Soumik says, ‘I have tried to execute it in such a way that it looks as good and grand as cinema. At the same time, it is essential to hold the drama of the story in a realistic manner.’ Does that entail taking cinematic liberties? ‘Since cinema or web is a visual medium you always have to tweak a certain portion of any story to make it look visually good and appealing. At the same time, I wanted to stay as close to the original as possible, because I love the old-world feel to the stories. Scriptwriter Sougata Basu has made my work simpler as he wrote a brilliant script, weaving two stories together with the great Bengal famine as backdrop. He scripts with the visuals in mind and that makes it easy for me to execute it. I have tried to stay true to the essence and emotion of the story while developing a new storytelling and visual language of my own,’ says the cinematographer, signing off on what is a promising debut as a filmmaker. 

 

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About the Author

Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri is either an 'accidental' editor who strayed into publishing from a career in finance and accounts or an 'accidental' finance person who found his calling in publishing. He studied commerce and after about a decade in finance and accounts, he left it for good. He did a course in film, television and journalism from the Xavier's Institute of Mass Communication, Mumbai, after which he launched a film magazine of his own called Lights Camera Action. As executive editor at HarperCollins Publishers India, he helped launch what came to be regarded as the go-to cinema, music and culture list in Indian publishing. Books commissioned and edited by him have won the National Award for Best Book on Cinema and the MAMI (Mumbai Academy of Moving Images) Award for Best Writing on Cinema. He also commissioned and edited some of India's leading authors like Gulzar, Manu Joseph, Kiran Nagarkar, Arun Shourie and worked out co-pub arrangements with the Society for the Preservation of Satyajit Ray Archives, apart from publishing a number of first-time authors in cinema whose books went on to become best-sellers. In 2017, he was named Editor of the Year by the apex publishing body, Publishing Next. He has been a regular contributor to Anupama Chopra's online magazine Film Companion. He is also a published author, with two books to his credit: Whims – A Book of Poems (published by Writers Workshop) and Icons from Bollywood (published by Penguin Books). 

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