Updated: December 12, 2014 10:01:52 am
In Sandip Ray’s Gorosthane Sabdhan (2010), when Feluda visits Sidhu Jyatha, the bibliophile known for bailing the detective in a crisis. The latter tells him that he could have just Googled him. This is a self-referential wink to an audience that tells us about what the popularity of the fictional detective created by Satyajit Ray and what it means to Bengalis. It’s the old-world charm etched in the minds of those who have grown up devouring the novels (written from 1965 to the early ’90s) and the two classics — Sonar Kella (The Golden Fortress, 1974) and Joy Baba Felunath (The Elephant God, 1979). That’s why even in 2014, when Feluda aka Pradosh Chandra Mitter, gears up for a reboot in Sandip’s latest film Badshahi Angti (The Emperor’s Ring), he still doesn’t have a cellphone, unlike those around him.
“Someone I met the other day told me that what he likes the most about the new Feluda is that he doesn’t have a mobile phone,” says Sandip, over the phone from Kolkata. Like the character in his film, the filmmaker doesn’t carry a cellphone either. He agrees that another group of fans may want a more contemporary update like the British TV show Sherlock — the character is a big inspiration behind Ray’s creation — but the filmmaker says, “It can mess up how he solves the mystery and secondly, somethings are better left unchanged.”
This time around, the actor playing Feluda has changed. Sandip’s Badshahi Angti, which releases in Kolkata on December 19 and other cities in the coming weeks, will see the fresh-faced Abir Chatterjee play the iconic Bengali sleuth. And he has big shoes to fill. Not only of his well-accepted immediate predecessor Sabyasachi Chakraborty in Sandip’s Feluda films but also the legendary Soumitra Chatterjee. “Abir has the right kind of intelligence. Also, he has a clean image and a following among today’s audience. These are two essentials to gain acceptance as
Feluda,” he says.
Chakraborty was well past his age to play Feluda and he himself suggested Abir’s name. Sandip was looking for a reboot and it helped that he chose the story of Badshahi Angti, an early episode in the Feluda series. It tracks Feluda’s transition from a middle-class intelligent Bengali youth with keen observational skills to a professional private investigator. “When the story begins, he is on a family holiday after struggling to get leave from his job. Investigating is still a hobby and he doesn’t have the famous .32 colt gun or his visiting card. Going to the origins of Feluda was exciting,” says Sandip.
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The brilliantly atmospheric Badshahi Angti, set in ’60s Lucknow amid the Bhulbhulaiya, crumbling palaces, also made for a great “big screen visual treat”. The old city texture is an integral part of the story. Sandip was apprehensive about finding that in a changed Lucknow, but he found the old city good enough to set his film in. “Thankfully, places such as the Bara Imambara and the Residency are intact and we shot the film smoothly,” he says. A fascinating plot point in the orginal story comprises a private menagerie that houses dangerous creatures such as snakes, scorpions and tarantulas. However, for the film Sandip had to rewrite this scene.
Sandip’s earlier Feluda films (he has made five in all) after his father’s passing away in 1992 received a mixed response from critics. Irrespective of that, his Feluda movies have always done good business. Sandip, who had earlier made Feluda for TV has successfully made it a three-yearly event. “Bengalis love travelling and Feluda is almost like an educative travelogue that gives you so much information hammering it down,” says Sandip.
Though there are other filmmakers such as Dibakar Banerjee and Shoojit Sircar, who are keen to make Feluda, Sandip says he isn’t thinking of giving the rights in Bengali yet. But he has no problem if someone approaches him to make it in Hindi.
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