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Sleuths Byomkesh Bakshi and Sherlock Holmes: Contrasts and Similarities

This article attempts to draw relevant comparisons and contrasts between Holmes and Bakshi, and make the point that Bakshi is an original creation independent of Holmes. Having never read the Bakshi novels, I can’t make an informed argument one way or the other, but this is an interesting read. ~Chat
Sleuths Byomkesh Bakshi and Sherlock Holmes: Contrasts and Similarities

    • Arnab Banerjee, Hindustan Times, New Delhi; Updated: Apr 02, 2015 16:46 IST

First things first. The Yashraj Films produced and Dibakar Banerjee directed film Detective Byomkesh Bakshi that hits the screens on 3rd April, 2015,is not a plagiarized version of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Byomkesh is an intelligent detective from Kolkata who solves many mysteries that were unsolved by the police.

Of course, the fictional character of Sherlock Holmes that was created by Scottish author and physician Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is also a private detective, and there would be umpteen similarities as far as the themes of the two in many stories are concerned that range from encountering cops, averting a national tragedy, resorting to underhand or even unlawful tactics to get to the bottom of the truth etc, but the similarity between the two ends there.

Those of us who are familiar with Bengali writer Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay’s 32 Byomkesh stories penned between 1932 and 1970, would recall how the Bengali writer disliked being called ‘a detective’, and preferred the term ‘Satyanweshi’, or ‘the Seeker of truth.’ Earlier, many critics had categorically pointed out that even Holmes was somewhat cast in the same mold, and two of the earlier detectives, Edgar Allan Poe’s C. Auguste Dupin and Émile Gaboriau’s Monsieur Lecoq.

If one looks at the BBC or the American teleseries, or the Hollywood films based on Holmes, and compares them with the original stories most of us have grown up reading, one would obviously find a marked difference between the protagonists of the original books and their cinematic avatar. While some of the earlier television episodes and many film adaptations were very loyal to the earliest portrayal, the subsequent characterization was innovative though a far cry from the imaginative depiction by the author.

That is not to suggest that movies- and there are only a few made of this genre in India – have not been inspired in some way or the other by Sherlock Homes. The dramatic effects used by scriptwriters, the trail of clues left behind by suspects, the rising action, the falling action and the denouement bear many similarities.

Here are six points where Byomkesh Bakshy is different from Sherlock Holmes.

1. Detective Byomkesh Bakshi is original. And the meticulously crafted stories are constructed on plots that retain their ‘Bengaliness’ to the core. The cultural context is so evidently created that one would get a significantly deep understanding of the Calcutta we have rarely seen on celluloid.

2. Literature is very important for the master of deduction. Byomkesh is extremely well-read, and thus well informed. His constant references to characters from Bengali classics amply prove his passion for literature. Holmes is well-read too. But while Holmes is a music enthusiast Byomkesh has no ear for music.

3. Byomkesh and his friend Ajit – and here one could arguably draw parallels between the two and Holmes and their counterparts, Dr Watson – jointly solve many cases together while Watson, a doctor by profession, Holmes’ confidante and perhaps the ‘only friend,’ is ordinary and does not have Holmes’ insight. Watson serves as a perfect foil to the rather emotionally-detached Holmes. Many of the fictional detective films have their own Dr Watsons and are shown to have a funny bone that may have provided some comic relief in the narrative. Some may even argue that Watson gets reduced to being the sidekick, and hence is caricaturist too. But Ajit seems like an equal partner, at least in some cases.

4. Unlike many Hollywood detective thrillers where the focus is primarily on systematic use of scientific tools and techniques and the approach is very organized, Byomkesh is unmistakably desi. Not that Byomkesh’s attitude is not controlled or methodical. He is humble, unassuming, quick-witted crackerjack. But when one realizes that Byomkesh is trying his best to be the perfect private investigator in the pre independence era of 1930s, one instantly gets to imagine not just the turmoil-ridden period of the British Raj in India, but also the bare minimalistic infrastructural limitations that this politicized period was riddled with.  And so, Byomkesh uses his intelligence and adept skills to solve the cases.

5. In the book, Sherlock Holmes is not known to be married. He is not interested in women. In fact, he is shown to have a liking for one or two but remains single throughout. In a few modern screen adaptations he is shown to be bisexual and even gay. In some television shows, he is known to have a love interest, perhaps to keep the viewers’ attention alive and raise TRPs. But unlike detective Holmes, Byomkesh gets married, and has a son too. The relationship between Holmes and his chronicler Dr. Watson remains unchanged during the decades they work together even though Watson was married, while Ajit remains a bachelor.

6. The two (Holmes and Byomkesh) look diametrically opposite to each other when it comes to their physical     appearances. Sherlock Holmes’ persona with a cap and a pipe is a swashbuckling hero of sorts, especially in contrast to the dhoti-clad straightforward unpretentious unadorned Byomkesh.

The detective spy thriller, based on the popular Bengali detective created by Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay, features Bollywood’s Sushant Singh Rajput in lead.

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