How’s the feedback for Darjeeling Jawmjawmat so far? What’s the fave compliment that you have received?
The feedback has been fantastic, specially considering how people are with Feluda... they are very, very possessive, stringent and emotional about Feluda... all of us, including me. The feedback has been positive overall and that’s a great achievement for us, that too with the constraints under which we were shooting. Also, the fact that we were making a period Feluda. Considering everything, it has been quite overwhelming.
There’s not one single fave compliment. But yes, a lot of people are saying that Tota (Roy Choudhury) has really improved over Chhinomostar Obhishaap... so has the chemistry between the three of them. In fact, during Chhinomostar Obhishaap’s success party we discussed the 10-12 points of valid criticism which had come out of the feedback then. We consciously decided to incorporate them and improve.
When you get that kind of validation from a huge majority of the audience it is indeed very satisfying. I will choose to ignore some extreme comments, both positive and negative and choose to go with the general feedback that despite some drawbacks, it is a Feluda which has leapt out of the pages of the book... something which is music to our ears and quite overwhelming.
Do you remember the first time you had read Darjeeling Jawmjawmat? What was your impression then?
I had read the story as an adolescent and what I distinctly remember and what stayed with me for the longest time is that Lalmohan Babu was acting in a film based on his own story. His character as the sidekick of the villain and that sketch of Lalmohan Babu with a French cut, that captured my imagination and stayed with me for a long time.
Why give so much space to Jatayu in the series? It distracts from the main story at times. The elaborate cigar scene... him learning, and then doing it for the film.... doesn’t add anything to the story.
In the story Lalmohan actually gets a lot of space and I have followed it faithfully, hence his overarching presence. The cigar scene is there in the text, and it is described, and the disastrous results are described with typical wit and humour of Ray, I just played them out as an adaptation in a visual medium.
Why pick Darjeeling Jawmjawmat for a web series?
It is a fantastic story, one of my faves. It is one of the most layered stories in terms of happenings and events. The film-within-a-film has an exciting structure. Since I’m doing one period and one contemporary alternately, this time it was the turn of the period adaptation after Chhinomostar Obhishaap and Jawto Kando Kathmandute. It was difficult to create the period setting in Darjeeling, given the time constraints. Still I chose Darjeeling because it is a controlled location. Also, this was the beginning of a new series, Feludar Goyendagiri. And Feludar Goyendagiri, as in his adventures, start in Darjeeling. That’s another sentimental reason why I chose Darjeeling.
Feluda himself was very sentimental about Darjeeling.
How did it feel to be shooting Feluda once again with the core team?
We had a blast shooting and by now we are like a family. It’s incredible. Every time we step out to shoot a Feluda story, it feels like we are going out for an adventure, which gladdens our hearts. The adventure connects everyone back to their childhood. We are always smiling on the sets of Feluda.
Do you have fond childhood Darjeeling memories?
I have memories of pony rides in the mall and walks through the mist. Also, I have shot a lot in Darjeeling... so lots of shooting memories.
The series is a huge hit. But it has once again polarised the audience. Why did this happen?
Any Feluda is going to polarise the audience. This happened when Sabyasachi Chakrabarty first burst onto the scene with Babuda’s (Sandip Ray) telefilms post Soumitra Chatterjee. Comparisons were inevitable. Also, I feel everyone has their personal take on Feluda. It is impossible to have a hundred per cent unanimous verdict on Feluda, or any other character... apart from the original trio, especially Santosh Dutta as Jatayu. Feluda being such a personal icon, everyone has his or her own idea of what Feluda should be like... how he should walk, what Feluda’s voice should be... what Feluda’s demeanour, eyes, body language should be. That is the reason why there is so much polarisation. Overall, the feedback has been positive, and there has been a positive word of mouth, which is showing in the numbers, making it such a huge hit. We are sieving out the useful criticism, which is pertinent and makes sense and I agree with, as per my vision of Feluda, and we’ll try to incorporate that.
Web shows are largely character driven. Do you feel it is time to make more changes to a Feluda story and the characters for the series format? One would like to know more about the other characters and experience more plot twists and turns...
Yes, maybe, but then again it is a double-edged sword. Even introducing little bits of new elements has met with a lot of resistance, in the past and even in this one. I have faced criticism for introducing small elements not there in the original story, though I have largely stuck to the story, which is a conscious decision from Day One.
One can add subplots, twists and turns... but I feel there’s an innocence in Feluda’s stories which I would like to retain. To make it unnecessarily edgy or gory or twisted would take away that innocence. I really don’t want to do that. Feluda for me is not the typical edge-of-the-seat thriller. It was never that. It is a warm nostalgic trip, a lot of travelogue, relationships and a mystery or a whodunnit in a classical mould. I would love to add elements or improvise for the sake of the screen. But would not like to do it at the cost of the innocence which Feluda brings with itself.
The imaginary scenes that have various people stabbing Barun Chanda’s character dilutes the gravity of the situation. It loses its impact. It is relentless and becomes predictable. Your thoughts...
Yes, that portion is a classic case of falling in love with the device. And I should have shown more restraint in using that device. Though I still feel the device is interesting. What I should have done is have flashcuts of various people stabbing... and not him falling to the bed. The tail portion of the shot makes it repetitive, predictable. I totally agree with this piece of criticism. If it had come and gone like a flash with various people stabbing from various perspectives, it would have worked much, much better.
The series, with its film-within-a-film format, plays around with pulp cinema of the 1980s. But by doing it, don’t you feel it clashes with Feluda’s overall sophisticated mode of storytelling? It feels mismatched at times with the overall tone.
I don’t agree with this at all. I feel it supplements it, it embellishes it beautifully as it does in the main text also. Right from Sonar Kella where Yeh jo mohabbat hai is playing in the loudspeaker to a lot of stories, especially stories where Feluda discusses the pulp writing of Lalmohan Ganguly, often ridiculing it for its exaggeration and over-the-top portrayals and misrepresentation of facts... we see this juxtaposition of pop pulp with the sleek, no-nonsense prose of Feluda.
His description of a typical filmi plot in Bombaiyer Bombete with its proper ingredients... that was classic Ray taking potshots at the masala film-making template, which was in vogue during the 1970s and 1980s. That satirical, sardonic look at the alternate pulp popular film industry through the eyes of Feluda was immensely enjoyable, and it complemented and accentuated the dry wit of the Feluda stories. And we have just done the same thing albeit visually.
The edit pattern, when Barun Chanda’s character is actually killed, is quite innovative (by cutting to the film shoot). How did you come up with that?
It comes to me from the film-within-a-film format where you can intercut reality and dramatised reality, especially with an action thriller like Karakoram Ke Khiladi, which they were shooting... which is full of those dialogues useful for the intercut. It was a natural progression... and the treatment of the scene was inevitable because there are dialogues pertaining to an action thriller on one hand, woven together with the drama unfolding in reality ending in death.
What is your takeaway from the series?
A much better chemistry between the three, a much more relaxed Tota as Feluda, a much more confident Kalpan as Topshe and a much more decidedly Jatayu in Anirban. In Chhinomostar... I felt he was still looking for the right pitch but here he has nailed it perfectly. He is fantastic. Also, Rahul’s performance as Pulak is one of the highlights. Also the cinematography. Ramyadip Saha has done a fantastic job. I would like to thank the audience for making it a memorable hit and the most-watched Bengali series ever.