He would have turned 90 tomorrow but Satyajit Ray left us 19 years ago. I remember, on April 23, 1992, after he surrendered to a three-month battle, millions of bereaved admirers poured out into the streets of Kolkata, chanting the Goopey Gyne Bagha Byne chartbuster, Maharaja tomare shelam.. (Maharaja, we salute you).
Among them were several hundred children who had grown up on Manik babu’s Feluda stories and his movies. If their parents mourned the death of a master craftsman who had put Bengal on the map of world cinema, the li’l ones sighed over the loss of their ‘jethu’ (uncle) who had understood their child’s world so well.
Four years ago, while talking about his beloved baba (father) on his 86th birth anniversary, Sandip Ray had reminisced the first of the Feluda films. In 1961, when his father had revived Sandesh, the magazine started by his grandfather, Upendrakishore, he had come up with a desi Sherlock Holmes whose real name was Pradosh Chandra Mitter but who became famous as Feluda.
Sonar Kella (The Golden Fortress) was one of the first cases of this private investigator to be adapted for the screen. It revolved around the seven-year-old Mukul Dhar whose memories of his past life that involved a ‘golden’ fortress in Rajasthan, put him in the clutches of some ‘bad’ men. Kushal Chakravarty brought the character to life wonderfully but surprisingly, Sandipda remembered another Mukul from the film, Shantanu Bagchi who was mistakenly kidnapped the first time.
“It was the first time Shantanu was facing a movie camera and ‘baba’, a little apprehensively, handed him a long bit of dialogue that he had to reel off. To everyone’s amazement, he did it in one perfect take,” Sandipda narrated, adding that his father had patted the boy on the back and told him to go out and play for a while.
Shantanu strolled out of the studio, walked up to Sandipda who was outside and asked him with complete seriousness, “Why did jethugive me such boka boka(silly) lines?” Sandipda admits the question left him speechless: “I’m told Shantanu is working with a top advertising firm in Mumbai now. He was a remarkable actor.”
Another natural born Ray discovery was Uma Dasgupta who played the teenage Durga in Pather Panchali (Song Of The Road). Though the film today is remembered for Apu, it was Durga who got the thumbs up from Sandipda. His ma (Bijoya Ray) had stumbled upon Subir Banerjee flying kites with some boys on the terrace of the house next-door. His baba who had been auditioning six year olds at the time for his directorial debut, agreed with her that Subir ‘looked’ the part of Apu.
“But Subir was not a spontaneous actor and ‘baba’ had to work really hard on him though the effort did not show on screen. Umadi who only acted in that one film, though was superb and I’ve heard that ‘baba’ did not really need to direct her. He only had to convince her to take off the pearl necklace she had put on to impress him during their first meeting,” laughed Sandipda.
Subir made way for another Apu, Pinaki Sen Gupta in Aparajito (The Unvanquished) that released the following year in 1956. The adolescent Apu in the same film was played by Smaran Ghoshal. While both the boys played their roles to perfection, it was the ‘adult’ Apu who won hearts.
Soumitra Chatterjee who had auditioned for Aparajito too was finally cast in Apur Sansar as the lovely Aparna’s (played by school girl Sharmila Tagore) young husband. Soumitrada had told me on