I brought in the New Year with Feluda. A cocktail of death and drama, hissing snakes, hidden treasure, a half-mad brother and a man-eating tiger, I couldn’t have asked for a better start to 2012.
A couple of days later, I was on the phone with Sandip Ray, wondering about a follow-up to Royal Bengal Rahasya. Satyajit Ray’s director son admitted he was Clueless, having run through his list of stories for the screen.
Besides, with Bibhu Bhattacharya passing away after canning his last shot, and Sabyasachi Chakraborty, at 55, way over Feluda’s age (27), he had to look for a new Felu and Jataju. The desi detective wouldn’t return for at least two years.
My sigh will find an echo not just in Bengal, but elsewhere in the country too, Pradosh C Mitter having become a household name.
At 6 feet 2 inches, with a handy 32 Colt revolver and an analytical mind referred to as the Magajastra or brain weapon, he first appeared in Feludar Goendagiri (1965), a story Ray penned for Sandesh, the children’s magazine his father, Upendrakishore Ray, had started and which he was editing.
He wrote 35 stories that made the Charminar-smoking private investigator a worthy match for the pipe-puffing Sherlock Holmes.
“Why don’t you plan a Feluda exhibition in the interim?” I urged Sandipda.
He loved the idea “I have plenty of illustrations, original manuscripts and working stills, that along with behind-the-scenes anecdotes, film clips and Feluda books would be a crowd-puller. We could take the exhibition to metros like Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore, even abroad.”
While I wait for the exhibition, I go back to the first of the Feluda movies, Sonar Kella (The Golden Fortress, 1974). Sandipda, who was assisting his baba (father), recalled an outstanding performance by Kushal Chakravarty as Mukul. He also has fond memories of the other Mukul, mistakenly kidnapped in the film first.
It was Shantanu Bagchi’s first film and Ray handed over a long dialogue sheet, wondering how many retakes he’d require. Mukul reeled off the lines in one perfect take. A delighted Ray patted him on the back and told him to go out and play.
“I was outside, Shantanu strolled up to me and asked with complete seriousness,"Why did jethu (uncle) give me such boka boka (silly) lines?’” Sandipda laughed, disappointed the remarkable actor didn’t do another movie.
“I’m told he is working with an advertising firm in Mumbai. I’d love to meet the grown-up Mukul.”
From the sand stone fortress in Jaisalmer and the narrow bylanes of Varanasi (Joy Baba Felunath, 1979), Feluda took a giant leap into the new millennium with the climax of Tintorettor Jishu (Tintoretto’s Jesus, 2008) filmed in Hong Kong.
“The film was 80 per cent complete in 2006. We’d shot in Kolkata, Jhargram and Chattisgarh, and only the climax was remaining, when we hit a roadblock. In the book, the villain is unmasked in Hong Kong, but for financial reasons, the original producer wanted to shoot in Singapore or Bangkok. I refused to compromise, so the film was shelved for two years,” revealed Sandipda.
Meanwhile, Arijit Gupta expressed interest in another Feluda story and the super success of Kailashey Kelenkari (A Killer In Kailash, 2007) lead to Tintorettor Jishu being revived and released in December 2008. They shot in Kowloon, Hong Kong island and even the Gold Coast “It made for stunning visuals!”
Sandipda was equally overwhelmed by the Kailash temple in Ellora’s Cave 10, one of the natural sets of Kailashey Kelenkari, along with Cave 15, world famous for its Dusavatar, and Cave 19 that depicts Sita ki kahani (Sita’s story).
“Baba had visited the caves back in the ’40s, traveling in a bullock cart from Aurangabad. I drove down 70 years later, but the sight of the Kailash temple left me speechless as well,” he admitted.
Sandipda, however, had to update the story that had first appeared in the Durga Puja special of the Bengali periodical Desh in 1973, “You don't expect Feluda to get clues through trunk calls today, do you?” he laughed.
“Life has changed since the sedate ’70s become more action-packed.”
So will the new Feluda change from Sherlock Holmes to James Bond?
I don’t think so. We’ve had three Feludas since the cerebral Soumitra Chatterjee, a more physical Sabyasachi, and in the mid-’80s, Shashi Kapoor in Satyajit Ray Presents on DD, whose wig was a problem and who was an absolute no-no in Bengal.
Who’s next? I’ve invited suggestions on Facebook and Twitter.
Let’s join Sandipda in this hunt. It can turn out to be just as interesting as the stories we’ve grown up reading.