The much anticipated release of Dibakar Banerjee’s film Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! is round the corner (3 April) and fans’ appetites have been whetted by the recent release of the film’s soundtrack on YouTube. It is unlike any Hindi film soundtrack and likely to polarise listeners.

The official trailer of the film appeared in January and it gave us an idea about the tone and look of Banerjee’s film and Sushant Singh Rajput’s likely portrayal of Byomkesh Bakshi. Banerjee and the producers Yash Raj Films have changed the “i" in the fictional detective’s surname to “y". Why? Our guess is as good as yours. To be honest, most Bengalis would be caught in two minds, as Banerjee’s reimagining of the Bengali detective is quite unlike how it is in author Saradindu Bandopadhyay’s stories. In fact, Bandopadhyay would probably cringe at his bhadralok sleuth spewing such introductions as, “Bakshy, Byomkesh Bakshy". But other than Bengalis, nobody would probably give a damn as long as the film is exciting.

The growing unease among fans of the original Byomkesh stories has been fuelled further by the film’s soundtrack. It should startle most viewers of Hindi cinema as well, actually. Even before you listen to the tracks, it is evident that the soundtrack is not run-of-the-mill. The seven tracks clock in at less than 28 minutes for starters. It also comprises tracks whose genres are almost entirely Western indie music.

Usually one would expect a certain amount of cohesion among songs in a Hindi film, especially so if it is a period piece. And Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! is all that, being set in Calcutta in 1943. Banerjee, however, throws realistic expectations out of the window, piling the soundtrack with nu metal, hip-hop, electronic sounds, jazz, indie rock—genres of music (apart from jazz) that were totally alien to the days during World War II, when the film is set. But a soundtrack is a special kind of music album, and what may seem like a hodgepodge of songs may actually work well with the visuals, which, judging by what we have seen so far, are steeped in noir imagery.

Indeed, tracks such as Chase in Chinatown (by the Bangalore electronic duo Mode.AKA and featuring vocalist Vyshnav Balasubramaniam) and Yang Guang Lives by the New Delhi act, IJA, are little more than incidental music, albeit in styles rarely used in Hindi films.

Most of the songs are Hindi reworkings of pre-existing Indian indie tunes. The notable exception is cult Delhi nu metal band Joint Family’s Life’s A Bitch from their 2008 album Hot Box. With its growling vocals and crunching, pile-driver guitars, the film-makers probably rightly felt that a Hindi version was a bad idea. Tracks that have been given a sort of desi makeover include Madboy/Mink’s Taste Your Kiss, which has been transformed into the kooky Calcutta Kiss. In some ways, this jazzy swinger is like an update of Geeta Dutt’s Mera Naam Chin Chin Chu from the 1958 film Howrah Bridge that is set in Calcutta’s Chinatown. Mumbai indie band Blek’s Fog + Strobe has become Byomkesh In Love and also includes Hindustani vocals by playback singer Usri Banerjee. The cabaret/gypsy/folk/indie band Peter Cat Recording Company’s Pariquel (a play on “prequel") was about a sultry femme fatale and the song had an ominous fairground atmosphere (think Carnival of Souls or even Georges Franju’s Eyes Without A Face). As Janam, the song would probably fit right into the dark recesses of Banerjee’s film.

Many Hindi film music fans may not have heard of these indie artists. The only exception being Sneha Khanwalkar who is the composer of the rap number Bach Ke Bakshy featuring delightfully irreverent lines as “Pith pe knife hain…uska kya blood type hain? or “Oh so the murder weapon used was a chain on the neck/why is there blood on the bed".

No matter how the album is received, the indie artists featured on the soundtrack will reach out to an audience far bigger than what they could have ever imagined.

Album released by Yash Raj Music. Click here to listen to the songs.

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