Many people wondered if I was apprehensive about coming out with Don 2 on December 23. But I believed there are enough people in West Bengal to catch both Feluda and Don 2 on the Christmas weekend and I was proved right,” exults director composer Sandip Ray whose recent Feluda film, Royal Bengal Rahasya, is drawing full houses in Kolkata in its second week.
It’s encouraging for Sandip that for the first time a Feluda film — and a Bengali one at that— has got such a wide release thanks to his producers, Surinder Films and Shree Venkatesh Films. “All these years, it was believed that the appeal of the iconic detective was restricted to an urban audience. This time, Srikant Mohta and Mahendra Soni were confident enough to venture with him not only into the interiors of Bengal but also travel with him to Bangalore, Delhi and Mumbai. The feedback has been positive,” says the elated filmmaker.
Sandip started out as a still photographer on his father's sets when still in school. At 22, he graduated to the ranks of assistant director working with his
(father Satyajit Ray) on Shatranj Ke Khiladi (The Chess Players, 1977). After Ray suffered two heart attacks, he completed Ghare Baire (Home And The World, 1984), having made his directorial debut the previous year with Phatik Chand (The Juggler, 1983) that bagged the National Award for Best Film and Best Direction.
His tryst with Pradosh C Mitter aka Feluda started with the mini series he made for TV, Satyajit Ray Presents (1986-’87), that had Shashi Kapoor playing the desi Sherlock Holmes. “Since it was airing on the national network, we thought Shashiji would appeal to a wider audience than Soumitra Chatterjee who had played Feluda in Sonar Kella (1973) and Joi Baba Felunath (1978) but Bengal rejected the gamble outright. And in retrospect, I see it more as an adventure series than a Feluda series,” admits Sandip.
He waited for over 25 years to return with Feluda because “no one was interested”. This time he opted for Sabyasachi Chakraborty and hit jackpot with Bombaiyer Bombete (2003). “Not just my father’s audience but even the next generation embraced Sabyasachi,” he says. “And he has kept the franchise going with Tintorettor Jishu (2008), Kaileshey Kenenkari (2007), Gorosthane Sabdhan (2010) and now Royal Bengal Rahasya (2011).”
Royal Bengal Rahasya, Sandip agrees, is one of the best Feluda plots conceived but admits it was a tough story to film because it has no songs, romance and women, not even a real villain and was more cerebral. “We were worried about it working commercially but this time the gamble seems to have paid off,” he smiles.
So what’s the next Feluda story he’s zeroed in on? Sandip says he’d made two lists — one for TV and one for films — and has run through both. “Now, I have to make a new list and despite the phenomenal box-office of Royal Bengal Rahasya I don’t see myself returning to Feluda this year,” he says, adding with a sigh, “With Sabyasachi and Bibhu (Bhattachrya) getting older, I will have to look for a new Feluda and Jatayu again.”
Does he have anyone in mind? “I don’t see anyone from the present lot of actors who can play Feluda,” he admits. “Feluda has to be tall, with a good voice and screen presence, conversant in Bengali, Hindi and English because he travels a lot. It won’t be easy finding him.”