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In Shatranj city, Hanuman shows change

Sandip Ray (extreme right) and associates on the top floor of Bara Imambara during the recce for the shoot

Lucknow, Jan. 22: Where has the Monkey Bridge gone?

It’s still there. But nearly 40 years after Satyajit Ray visited Lucknow to shoot Shatranj Ke Khiladi, the bridge — now called Hanuman Setu — is possibly the most telling evidence that the city has moved on.

Sandip Ray, son of the iconic filmmaker, returned to Lucknow early this month, scouting for places where he could shoot scenes for a film based on a novel by his father.

He found out that the city he visited in 1976-77 as Ray’s assistant director had changed.

“My father always had a weakness for Lucknow. His novel Badshahi Angti (royal ring) has recorded a Lucknow of the Sixties…. (But) a lot of things have changed now,” Ray junior said during his recce.

Would that be a handicap?

Unlikely, said Suven K. Das, executive producer, Shree Venkatesh Films, who was accompanying the filmmaker.

Badshahi Angti is not going to be a period drama. It is a crime thriller. So it would not be a problem if the story unfolds in Lucknow’s new environment.”

Sandip, who plans to return with his Badshahi Angti crew next month, is looking forward to the shoot. “I want to tell the story of Badshahi Angti with new Lucknow as the backdrop for it is impossible to recreate the old Lucknow of the Sixties as described in the book,” the 1953-born filmmaker told The Telegraph.

“Although the city has changed, Lucknow is still home to its precious heritage sites. Eighty per cent of the film will be shot in Lucknow.”

He had earlier told reporters in Calcutta that he had finished writing the script for Badshahi Angti, the first book that features Feluda. Actor Abir Chattopadhyay will play the fictional detective.

Sandip had launched his professional career as assistant director on his father’s Shatranj Ke Khiladi crew in 1977.

The 60-year-old, who went on to assist his father in Ganashatru and Agantuk and was camera operator for Shakha Proshakha, said it was a “sentimental” return to Lucknow as it took him back to the time when he had accompanied Ray for shooting Shatranj Ke Khiladi.

“It was a sentimental journey for me when I revisited the places, roads that my father described in the book or those where my father had shot Shatranj Ke Khiladi,” he said.

“I met the owner of a bookstore who told me that my father would visit the first floor children’s book section and read comics. It’s a small world.”

But a changed world.

At times, the Badshahi Angti team found it difficult to locate landmarks mentioned in the novel. Monkey Bridge — named so because of the large number of apes that used to hang around the spot — was one such landmark.

“The book mentions one Monkey Bridge. We found out that its name had been changed. It has been renamed Hanuman Setu. The bridge over the Gomti now has high iron nets on both sides to prevent suicides,” he said.

Sandip, who made his directorial debut with Phatik Chand (1983), said he would shoot scenes for his upcoming film in Haridwar and Lakshman Jhula too.

Badshahi Angti, set in Lucknow, is about the theft of a royal ring believed to have been once owned by Mughal emperor Aurangzeb. A murder takes Feluda to Haridwar and Lakshman Jhula in Rishikesh. In one scene in the novel, Feluda and Topshe, his assistant, are trapped in a cabin with a rattlesnake for company.

During their investigations, Feluda and Topshe visit the Bara Imambarah and the Lucknow coffee house as the plot thickens.

The story has interesting characters like Bonobihari Babu, whose home houses a deadly menagerie — crocodile, tiger, hyena, rattlesnake, scorpion and black widow spider.

“It’s a big project and I want to do the film with a lot of love,” Sandip said.