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Camels bring Kella memories

- Jatayu missed at Sandip’s Angti set in Lucknow
Actor Abir Chatterjee (in dark glasses) on the sets of Badshahi Angti in Lucknow

Lucknow, Feb. 18: The camels ambled along from nowhere, prompting someone on the set to ask: “Hey, but where is Jatayu?”

The scene was not Rajasthan, where Satyajit Ray’s Sonar Kella was filmed with Feluda and his irrepressibly inquisitive companion Jatayu, but Lucknow where the master’s son Sandip Ray was shooting his next crime thriller based on a novel by his father.

The tanga, old Lucknow’s ubiquitous symbol, was ready for the protagonists of Ray Junior’s Badshahi Angti (emperor’s ring), but the buzz wasn’t about the horses.

It was about camels, about nostalgia, about missing Jatayu, or Lalmohan Babu, who famously enquired in the 1974 classic if camels plucked out thorns before chewing cactus.

“The camels here are perhaps in search of Jatayu,” joked a crew member as actor Abir Chatterjee, playing Feluda for the first time, and Saurabh Das, essaying the role of his assistant and cousin Topshe, waited for a ride on the horse carriage on a road between the famous Bara and Chota Imambaras.

It was left to Suven Kumar Das, manager of Shree Ventakesh Films that is producing Badshahi Angti, to clear the air on horses, camels and Jatayu, played by the late Santosh Dutta (and later by the late Bibhu Bhattacharya).

“Camels are here but there is no Jatayu or Lalmohan Babu in this film. The novel, set in the Lucknow of the mid-sixties, does not have the character,” said Das about the film that revolves around the theft of a ring believed to have been once owned by Aurangzeb.

But Sandip, perched on a hoodless jeep along with cinematographer Sirsha Roy for the first shot, wasn’t complaining about the intruders.

Turns out, the six camels were walking up to Malihabad, 10km away, to be part of a wedding procession when they abruptly sauntered in.

Sandip was asked by his crew if the shot could be reorganised to accommodate the camels in the frame.

“They have already moved into the frame. And they have made the shot perfect,” replied Sandip, his eyes unwavering on the camera as his jeep trailed the tanga.

If the shot was decreed “perfect”, so seemed the nostalgia that swept the location as the Badshahi team rewound to the Kella highs. Especially Jatayu’s “Oont ki kata bechhe khaye (does the camel eat cactus trees after plucking out the thorns)” query on a camel ride that became a lore.

Another memory loomed — this one etched in the Lucknow of 1976-77 when Sandip had accompanied Ray as a young assistant director to shoot Shatranj ke Khiladi (The Chess Players).

Standing on location, Ramesh Sengupta and Subrata Lahiri, who had worked with Ray, recalled how the architecture of Lucknow and Awadhi motifs were captured in the film.

Cut to Badshahi Angti, and the crew suggested the ring of mystery would grip Sandip’s next too. Yesterday’s shot shows Feluda getting a hand-written note thrown on his tanga by a mysterious sadhu who whizzes past on a bicycle.

First day, first shot over, the 60-year-old Sandip said the plot was set in Lucknow’s maze of lanes and bylanes as part of a drama that unfolds over the murder of one of the custodians of the ring. The hunt later takes Feluda to Haridwar and Lakshman Jhula in Rishikesh.

Abir, asked how it felt to be a Feluda after Soumitra Chatterjee and Sabyasachi Chakrabarty, said: “I am trying to live up to the challenges in the role.”