The Zoo ★★★★

Rating: 7.5 / 10

A genius held back — a glorious misfire of a film.

Chiriakhana is perhaps the most popular Byomkesh Bakshi novel by Saradindu Bandyopadhyay, and the reasons for the said popularity are majorly twofold.

Firstly, the plot is based on multiple set-pieces separated by time and the whodunit mystery under investigation develops on a situational web of deceit as if the Devil has been orchestrating the treacherous movements and cunning lies from the plethora of the characters at play.

Second is the decision to choose this plot for being filmed under the arguably most revered director in Bengal and led by the most prominent 'star' face in Bengal — Satyajit Ray and Uttam Kumar.

Plagued with the hardships of distributors backing out and the background score being in shambles, Ray pulls off a distinctively unique take on the sleuth, markedly different from Saradindu's Byomkesh. Ray's Byomkesh is as far from the family man that the readers know him to be, the state of his residence with a pet snake speaks volumes of his bachelorhood. Noticeably, this is the specific trait that Ray chose to bestow on his own detective Feluda later on.

Moving on to the film, Ray does indeed deviate from some key plot points in the book, some of which are deliberately done to add some pace in the climax. However, despite the admirable camera work, the scene of an investigative break-in at a shady alleyway has aged very poorly and is not quite cohesive. Some of the inquisition scenes are also slightly rushed and show that the actors were 'acting'.

However, there are some major highlights here. Ray manages to hold the tension and the eerie suspense throughout the film without losing focus on the deduction. Uttam Kumar's dialogue delivery and gait are impeccably appropriate and his screen presence is to marvel at. The manner in which he adjusts his demeanour when disguised as a Japanese horticulturist is astounding.

Altogether, this is perhaps the Ray film that feels the most dated, the director himself called it his weakest effort. Yet at the end of the day, the sheer stardom of Uttam Kumar and his remarkable acting range had made it a box office success then, and still makes it a decent cinematic experience now.