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The Feluda Phenomenon

Did Satyajit Ray ever consider anyone other than Soumitra Chatterjee as Feluda?

Soumitra Chatterjee was never Baba’s (Satyajit Ray) first choice to play Feluda. Many people think that Baba had Soumitrakaka in mind while making the Feluda illustrations but it’s a wrong notion. But Soumitrakaka played Feluda so well! Baba wanted an actor who would be a bit of Subhendu (Chatterjee), Dhritiman (Chaterji), Barun Chanda and Soumitrakaka…. All the men he had worked with. Baba wished he would find someone with such a combination but later realised that it was an absurd thought (laughs). When he couldn’t find that combination, he asked Soumitrakaka to play Feluda. Soumitrakaka was almost the 12th man. Aar keu nei to tumie kore dao…. But height was certainly an important factor for Feluda.

What is your first memory of Feluda?

It goes back to the time when Baba started writing the Feluda stories. The first story he wrote was Feludar Goyendagiri. It came out in Sandesh in three instalments in end-1965. Baba hadn’t thought of Feluda as a series then. It was like any other one-off short story that he would pen. He wanted to try out the detective genre, as he was a great fan of Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie. He gave the first draft to Ma (Bijoya Ray) to read because she was a bigger follower of detective books than he was. With all Feluda stories, he would entrust her with the task of checking if he had got the motive of the crime and the modus operandi right. Once she was through, I would read the draft. That’s how I read Feludar Goyendagiri.

While writing Feludar Goyendagiri, Baba didn’t do any homework on how he would develop Feluda’s character. For instance, he didn’t make a list of character traits. It all happened gradually. The sale of Sandesh increased after Feludar Goyendagiri was published. Baba started receiving fan mail. People wanted more stories, and longer stories. Baba saw that there was a growing demand for Feluda. And then he wrote Badshahi Angti, which ran for 12 months. Then, the other stories followed. Later, of course, the Feluda series ran in Desh.

And with the stories, Feluda’s character started shaping up. In the beginning, Baba made him slightly comical. You would often find him slapping Topshe on the back. Slowly, Feluda became more handsome, tall and sharp.

Baba started bestowing all his personal likes and dislikes on Feluda. He began sending Feluda to places that he had himself been to and liked a lot. Baba had a little theory about this. He said he would send Feluda to places that he had himself been to and liked very much, while he would send Professor Shonku to places that he would love to go to but never had the chance (laughs). So the Feluda stories also started having the characteristics of a travelogue.

And Baba preferred that Feluda travelled within India. He didn’t want him to go abroad too much, except in the very beginning. Like in Joto Kando Kathmandute. Baba had gone to Kathmandu to shoot the documentary The Inner Eye on Binode Behari and he loved the place. It was the time of Flower Power and drugs, and Kathmandu was quite a colourful place. After returning home, Baba said, “Shonku-ke okhane pathano jachchhena, ota Felur-i jayga.”

Now you are planning a film on Joto Kando Kathmandute...

Yes, Kathmandu has been a favourite place of both Baba and mine. I have always wanted to make Joto Kando Kathmandute for the big screen. Besides, Sabyasachi (Chakraborty) has been telling me to take up Joto Kando for a long time. So I thought let’s try. We have done a recce in Kathmandu. We will shoot next year and plan to release the film in end-2010. I was wary of Feluda (Sabyasachi) growing older, so thought of getting started on it before it’s too late. I really find the crime in Joto Kando Kathmandute — drug peddling and all that — very interesting.

Which is your favourite Feluda story?

Badshahi Angti… It’s one of the earliest stories and I am very attached to it. Lucknow (where the story is set) is a wonderful place and we haven’t shot there after Shatranj Ke Khiladi. I also love Royal Bengal Rahasya and Chhinnamastar Abhishap. Gorosthane Sabdhan is also a great favourite. I plan to make a film on it some day. I love the Calcutta that Baba had written about in it. It’s a different Calcutta, a completely different feel. The atmosphere is different. The Park Street cemetery is such an intriguing place. But it will be a tough task to update Gorosthane Sabdhan.... Recreating Calcutta when Feluda had been written is a very difficult thing to do. Everything has changed — the topography has changed, the Calcutta skyline has changed, the cars on the streets have changed…

How did you get into making Feluda films?

My interest in filmmaking grew with my desire to direct a Feluda film some day. In fact, I first wanted to direct Gangtoke Gandogol. But it was only two years after Joi Baba Felunath had released and I didn’t have the guts to go ahead with my project. Soumitrakaka would have played Feluda if I had done it. I have been very involved with the making of Baba’s Feluda films, especially with the post-production. Later, I made the TV series on Feluda. In fact, I also wanted to make a film on Professor Shonku. He has a dedicated fan following.

After your two Feluda films, people now want more...

Yes, there’s a great demand. Just as Baba had to go on writing the Feluda stories on public demand. He loved fan mail and he would keep track of what people wanted in his stories. He would also take phone calls himself. We never had any secretaries. So, now I get lots of calls from people wanting to know about the Feluda films. They ask me if I am making any changes in the story, which portions I am thinking of leaving out. Surprisingly, many of the callers are girls, which makes me believe that Feluda has a huge female fan following. A young girl recently advised me on the phone that I should think twice before giving Feluda a cellphone (laughs). And I strongly feel I should pay heed to their inputs.

Are other directors interested in making Feluda films?

Some people have wanted to make Feluda in Hindi, which I don’t think is a good idea. Even if you are able to transport Feluda and Topshe to a Hindi film, it is impossible to do so with Lalmohanbabu (Jatayu). And in Bengali, I will make the Feluda films. That is as long as I can. You know there are scarcely any people in Bengal who work in this genre.

Besides, there are several things that I have to keep in mind while making a Feluda film. It has to be very tasteful, for one. It must be suitable for family viewing. You never know what would happen if it falls into other hands. Some people these days have the tendency to hit below the belt in order to draw attention.

Will we find any changes in Feluda in the forthcoming films?

Well, we will try to see that Feluda smokes less henceforth. I have realised that we won’t be able to show the Charminar brand, neither will we be able to mention it in the dialogues.

And who do you see slipping into Feluda’s shoes after Sabyasachi?

I personally feel very bad when I think that a day will come when we won’t be able to make any more Feluda films with Sabyasachi. Of the present batch of actors, I cannot think of anyone else who can become Feluda. But we will have to think of a new trio later. And that will be a hell of a job (laughs).

Reshmi Sengupta

What is your relationship with Feluda? Tell t2@abpmail.com

PHENOMENON

What can be a more lucrative opportunity for a producer than producing a Feluda film? People in the age group of eight-to-80 are interested in Feluda films. Besides, as a Feluda producer one commands a great deal of respect. Tintorettor Jishu is our biggest production till date, but the brand value of Feluda is so huge that we are sure of the returns.

— Sumita Bhattacharya of T. Sarkar Productions (producer of Kailase Kelenkari and Tintorettor Jishu)

It’s Ray’s writing that has made Feluda a phenomenon and I think Ray had modelled Feluda on himself. After he made Sonar Kella, Feluda became a cult figure.... Feluda is what every Bengali boy aspires to be — very intelligent, physically fit and extremely well-read. He loves kadapaak sandesh and Makaibari tea, and wears panjabi with trousers. He is very Bangali yet international.

— Sabyasachi Chakraborty (Feluda)

We will get to know how strong the brand value of Feluda is only after the release of Tintorettor Jishu. There is a set audience for Feluda, no doubt. But Tintorettor Jishu is coming within a year of Kailase Kelenkari. Besides, Feluda will have to face Shah Rukh Khan’s Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi, which releases on the same day (December 12) and Aamir Khan’s Ghajini (December 25).

— Arijit Dutta, distributor-exhibitor

I devoured Feluda stories and as a child I had a crush on Feluda. I wanted to marry someone like him. What appealed to me was Feluda’s intelligence, his sense of humour and the fact that he wasn’t a womaniser. Every girl wants to win over a man who isn’t interested in women. To me, Soumitrada was the ideal Feluda, the romantic Feluda.

— Sudeshna Roy, filmmaker

What I like most about Feluda is the fact that he is closer home, unlike Sherlock Holmes. Feluda gives you a feeling of been there, done that. I have read all the Feluda stories in translation and I have watched all the Feluda films. Though I like the Soumitra films more than the Sabyasachi ones, I still look forward to every Feluda release.

— Sanju Menon, ad professional

4 in one Feluda

‘Soumitra Chatterjee was never Baba’s first choice to play Feluda. Baba wanted an actor who would be a bit of Subhendu (Chatterjee), Dhritiman (Chaterji), Barun Chanda and Soumitrakaka…’

— Sandip Ray

Soumitra Chatterjee

I have never heard of such a thing (Ray’s perfect Felu). When the Feluda illustrations were being published, I had once told Manikda that to me Feluda in the sketches resembled him in some ways — for instance, Manikda’s intelligence, height, handsome features, style of smoking… To which Manikda said: “Sheki… Loketo bole aami tomake dekhe sketch banai (People say that I model my sketches on you).”

Dhritiman Chaterji

Manikda never discussed casting me as Feluda but I was aware that he had a picture of the ideal male in his mind. So, he looking for a combination of four actors in someone to play Feluda sounds logical to me. But I would have loved to play Feluda…. Now I am looking forward to Babu’s (Sandip Ray) Tintorettor Jishu.

Barun Chanda

I knew that Manikda had thought of such a thing. Manikda had indeed told me that he preferred a combination of Soumitra, Sundar (Dhritiman) and myself in the role of Feluda. I remember him saying that he wanted my looks. Well, I would have loved to play Feluda.

Saswata Chatterjee on father Subhendu Chatterjee

Baba never said anything about being considered as Feluda by Satyajit Ray. Baba had told me that Ray liked him for his natural acting and simple Bengali boy looks. I never thought of my father as Feluda. To me, the perfect Feluda would be a combination of Soumitra Chatterjee and Sabyasachi Chakraborty — Benuda’s (Sabyasachi) thunderous voice and Soumitrakaku’s Bangaliana.

3 some

Sabyasachi Chakraborty (Feluda)

I have tried to do a little better in Tintorettor Jishu. We have improved as a team. Babuda (Sandip) guided us during the first Feluda film but now his instructions have become very brief. And we have no trouble in following what he wants…. Feluda hasn’t changed in Tintorettor Jishu but this film will be more visually attractive than Bombaiyer Bombete or Kailase Kelenkari. The crime is more complicated and there’s quite a bit of action too.

Bibhu Bhattacharya (Jatayu)

I think our chemistry has improved in Tintorettor Jishu as there was better understanding between Benubabu, Parambrata and myself. We were a bit shaky during Bombaiyer Bombete. As for Jatayu, I have tried to interpret the character my way. I have tried to communicate with the audience.

Parambrata Chatterjee (Topshe)

I think the chemistry between Feluda, Topshe and Jatayu comes out better in Tintorettor Jishu than in Kailase Kelenkari or Bombaiyer Bombete. Being known as Topshe feels good, but there’s a flip side to it too. For instance, when I do romantic scenes in other films, people ask “how can Topshe do a kissing scene?”...

Who do you think can play Feluda after Sabyasachi? Tell [email protected]

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