Feluda: 50 Years of Ray’s Detective review — An impressive celebration of the iconic Bengali sleuth
Sagnik Chatterjee's documentary does a rather impressive job of celebrating the phenomenon called Feluda.
Who would believe that it’s been 50 years since a smart, sharp-witted, well-read Bengali bhodrolok detective, armed with a keen sense of observation, enviable analytical and deduction skills and a sense of humour that’s as sarcastic as it is good-natured, had appeared on the literary horizon in our country? One who could achieve the unthinkable feat of giving competition to the seemingly inimitable popularity of another Bengali bhodrolok sleuth – one Mr Byomkesh Bakshi – who had ruled the imagination of readers for several years? Today, when you ask even the most casual reader of literature in West Bengal, chances are, they will name Feluda, not just as their favourite detective but by far the most popular fictional character in Bengali literature, even more popular than Byomkesh Bakshi. For the last 50 years, Feluda has been an integral part of the lives of all Bengalis – young and old alike. Just like the ilish maach, football, coffee house, Tagore, Park Street, and roshogolla, there’s Feluda: an all-encompassing, omnipresent emotion that is so entwined with our day-to-day lives, that we have ceased to notice its existence. Why else do you think it comes as a surprise to us that it’s been 50 years since Satyajit Ray introduced Feluda to us?
To celebrate the golden jubilee of this fictional character, Sagnik Chatterjee has made a documentary film, unassumingly titled Feluda: 50 Years of Ray’s Detective. When I first heard of this film, I had my doubts about whether it would be able to capture – let alone celebrate – the many nuances of Satyajit Ray’s immortal creation. I feared that a mere two hours may not suffice to reminisce the hundreds of facts and trivia that are associated with Bengal’s poster boy of smartness, intellect and uber cool. Scores of books had been written about Feluda, I had read all of them with great enthusiasm, only to realise that most of them have not been able to do justice to the man and his creator. It is with a certain sense of scepticism, then, that I began watching Chatterjee’s film. But I was pleasantly surprised to find that he had done a rather impressive job of celebrating the phenomenon called Feluda.
I can’t think of an aspect of Feluda that Chatterjee’s film does not address. Along with all the regular, much-talked-about facets of the stories, there are also important discussions on the illustrations, for instance, which Ray drew himself. How Feluda changed from being a slightly hesitant, slightly timid young man in the first story Feludar Goendagiri to the ‘nerves of steel’ that we know him to be today, or how Nishikanta Sarkar in Gangtoke Gondogol is, in fact, a precursor to Lalmohan Ganguly, or Jatayu, in the stories that followed, or how there’s an inexplicably fake pace in the stories – one that gives the illusion of a relaxed reading experience despite a breakneck speed at which events unfold – many such priceless discussions are beautifully captured in the documentary.
Chatterjee also chooses to focus on the two Feluda films that Ray directed, and the one Feluda telefilm that he was closely associated with. Memories of the making of Sonar Kella are brought back as Ray’s son Sandip and actor Kushal Chakraborty, who played a pivotal role in the film, go back to the ‘golden’ fortress where the film was shot. It must have been an emotional experience for them, especially to meet and talk to the shopkeepers inside the fort, who admitted to owing their livelihood to the legacy that Ray had left behind. The fact that hundreds of tourists flocked to the fortress every year, just to see the original location of the shooting, is evidence to the immense popularity of the character and his maker, and to the indelible impression that the story and the film had left on several generations of readers and audiences.
Sagnik Chatterjee also interviews many actors, writers, illustrators, editors, directors and others closely associated with the Feluda brand. But in a masterstroke of filmmaking, he cleverly intersperses these interviews with those of people who have no apparent or organic connection with Feluda, just to show how far and wide the popularity of Feluda has spread. What I did not quite like in the documentary though is the clearly inordinate amount of time that has been spent talking about the more recent adaptations of the Feluda stories. Anyone who has been a true Feluda fan over the years is aware of the problems these films suffer from, and it was a pain to sit through these boring bits of an otherwise beautifully crafted documentary.
The cinematography by Pinaki Sarkar and Subodh Karve, and the sound design by Nihar Samal deserve a special mention. The camerawork, in particular, is commendable. I was also awestruck by the magnificent editing by Sujay Dutta Ray, who gave the film a certain pace that can best be described as the ‘Feluda’ pace, albeit we are referring to a more modern version of the super sleuth. What is really heartening to know is the fact that barring exactly three members, Feluda: 50 Years of Ray’s Detective is the debut film of the crew. That is one impressive feat.
In the end, I must talk about the dangers of nostalgia, as I often do. Did I like Sagnik Chatterjee’s film merely because it brought back beautiful childhood memories of summer afternoons spent with Feluda books strewn all around me? Did I like his film simply because it reminded me of the goosebumps I had felt on seeing Feluda, Topshe and Jatayu chase a train on the back of camels sprinting through the barren deserts of Rajasthan? Or did I like the film simply because it is a good film? I gave it a lot of thought and came to the conclusion that no matter how much I tried, it was impossible for me, even as a critic, to separate the two. Half the battle was won for Chatterjee when he chose to make a documentary on Feluda. What was really nice to see is that he did a wonderful job and emerged victorious in the other half too.
Rating: 3.5 stars
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