In Appreciation of Dibakar Banerjee
by Devarsi Ghosh
My body clock has decided that every night I should somehow wake up at around 2, 2:10 am no matter how tired I am.
Tonight was no different. So I decided to listen to the Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! soundtrack.
While listening to the rip-roaring electronic rap track Chase in Chinatown I made up my mind to write this.
I knew Dibakar Banerjee was a filmmaker who directly spoke to me, more than any other contemporary Indian filmmaker, when I saw Oye Lucky Lucky Oye.
Wikipedia lists it as a “black comedy”. Why the film spoke to me was because it was angry. It was angry in a way few Indian films were. It was both angry and funny.
OLLO was about class wars and I identified strongly with the protagonist Lucky, who comes from a lower middle class Delhi suburb, to become a master thief to fulfill his upper class aspirations.
The scene where a young Lucky stares at upper class convent educated girls getting out of a swanky car with their boyfriends stayed with me.
Lucky was strongly motivated to make a name as an upper class Indian playboy type in the highly class conscious Delhi and he knew money talked. He was bitter, angry, sarcastic, scornful – exactly like DB’s films that followed OLLO.
In fact when I think of DB, I conveniently reject the fact that he made Khosla Ka Ghosla because that is NOT Dibakar’s language. That is not Dibakar’s soul. That was Jaideep Sahni’s soul filtered through a debutant filmmaker eager to please the slowly growing multiplex audience.
The real DB can be found in OLLO, LSD and Shanghai and with each film, he grew darker, angrier and stopped giving fucks as far as Bollywood conventions are concerned.
With Detective Byomkesh Bakshy’s promos (First, Second, Third) and the spectacular music album, it seems like he has reached the pinnacle of not giving fucks!
Coming back to OLLO, being a small town lower middle class kid thrust into St. Xavier’s, Kolkata, I received a strong culture shock. The liberal, up-market atmosphere…the people…the world of urbane, stylish, self-confident women, overgrown boys with myriad hairstyles with their perfect English accents, with no tinge of colloquial thickness, freely available weed and alcohol and zero inhibitions towards them, the attitude of it all – it was a stark contrast to where I came from. I didn’t realize it then but I do now – a seed of bitterness grew in my gut that probably has a lot to do with my present scorn for liberal, couch-politics today.
And Dibakar spoke to my soul.
Come LSD. Love, Sex Aur Dhokha. DB challenged Bollywood conventions yet again and wildly, outrageously. He didn’t shout out from the rooftops ten times a day about how Bollywood was trying to buy his soul like Kashyap. He never had that fan following. His films weren’t as pen-and-paper ambitious and didn’t have the veneer of classiness like those of Vishal Bharadwaj’s. LSD was a wild child, produced by what-the-fuck-was-she-thinking Ekta Kapoor and the experiment paid off; if I am not wrong, it made 9 crores off a 1.5 crore budget.
What struck me this time around apart from the anger was his attention to details. To quote Baradwaj Rangan, my favorite Indian film writer (till I find any better) from his review of DB’s Shanghai, “If God is in the details, then Banerjee’s films are certainly sky-scraping cathedrals”. There was the usual “class wars” present and how! Banerjee scratched the underbelly of India’s caste politics, masculine mentality and contemporary media brouhaha with the precision of a Swiss watchmaker and the no-body-left-alive attitude of a SS Jew killer. He spared nobody. Not even Aditya Chopra. The film was a psychological sledgehammer to my system and I, then in my first year of college, had already decided by then that Banerjee is a filmmaker after my own heart.
Then came Shanghai. DB’s adaptation of Z. When I heard DB was going to adapt Z, I was like “No shit, of course”. The material was perfect for DB to send a Fuck-You to both Bollywood and Indian politics, albeit, in his usual snide and low-key (but not really) manner. The film didn’t make money but any strong follower of DB could see that his films have been seeped of all light. If his debut film Khosla Ka Ghosla was a cotton candy, Shanghai was charred wolf meat fit for medieval vikings. The film was like a Best-Hits-Of-Dibakar-Banerjee. Three-dimensional characters. Even the smallest characters, like the tempo driver or the funny, naive, local goonda played by Pitobash had shades that made them real. The difference between Kashyap and Banerjee is that Kashyap is a wild, reckless train who doesn’t know where to stop with his characters (or films for that matter); his films echo small town India or the seedy metropolitan underbelly as well as Banerjee’s but he seems to be in a mood to parody them. Banerjee shows them exactly as they are without additional embellishments. Banerjee has strong self-control. He knows where to stop with his characters. Shanghai was a master-class in filmmaking. In less than two hours, it said more about Indian democracy than any Indian film had in the last twenty five years. A lot of people didn’t like it, perhaps for the downbeat tone or the so called “twist ending”, but it was more than its individual parts.
The sum of its parts, Shanghai, was a black, pitch black, angry film and I reveled enjoying its menacing madness.
He is the best of Bangaliyana, the classic Bengali intellectual, without his lazy shortcomings. He is the ubermensch when it comes to the Bengali intellectual filmmaker operating in mainstream Bollywood, a place that could have been like hell to a person like Banerjee if he didn’t know how to operate there.
But he is a sly fucker, the bespectacled guy.
Banerjee, who made fun of Aditya Chopra’s brand of ridiculous cinema in LSD, got the guy to produce it and what a film he seems to have produced. Everything about the film is a gigantic FU to Bollywood conventions, Bollywood music conventions, but most importantly to the legacy of Byomkesh Bakshi. He has revamped the character, jazzed it u…sorry, punk rocked it up and HOW! Cannot wait for April 3rd. Cannot wait for my master to rub his charm on my belly and make me feel warm again.
If DBB scores well with the Indian audience, Dibakar Banerjee, fingers crossed, will turn Bollywood head over heels in the coming years, mark my words.