Monday, January 16, 2012

Feluda Comics

This month, I have decided to dedicate the blog to the one and only Feluda. Even super-slueths need to be updated in this age of instant gratification and thus here's now Feluda is now starring in a series of English graphic novels (ok - comic books, but graphic novels sound better!). These books will not let a wider audience enjoy the brilliance of the Felu Mitter! 

The afterlife of Satyajit Ray’s Feluda stories continues apace: After film, television, translation and radio, we have the comic book version of Kolkata’s most celebrated private eye. This is as it should be, for Ray started life as a graphic designer and illustrator, and continued to practise both arts in a variety of media. One is, in fact, surprised not to see the comic book among the staggering oeuvre of Ray’s achievements—one feels the graphic novel would have come to India much earlier had Ray turned his hand to the form.

The inhabitant of 27, Rajani Sen Road is back. Armed with his Charminar cigarettes, the rarely used Colt revolver, his cousin Tapesh and dear friend Lalmohan Ganguly, Pradosh Chandra Mitter, better known as Feluda, will has hit bookshelves in a new, graphic avatar. The adventures and mysteries of the Bengali detective, created by Satyajit Ray have been adapted into graphic novels by children’s author Subhadra Sen Gupta and illustrator Tapas Guha and published by Puffin. 

The Mid-Day observed: "Detective Feluda is here, Tintin-style. The iconic private eye - a character created by legendary filmmaker-writer Satyajit Ray in his Bengali whodunits - has entered the animated, colourful world of comic books"
Tapas and I were approached by a Kolkata-based daily in 2004, to convert the Feluda mysteries into a graphic format for their children’s page. We realised how popular the venture has been when we heard that children were cutting out the pages from the paper and pasting them into a scrapbook, making their own comic books,” says Sen Gupta. 

The idea of a graphic novel for Feluda was born and Sen Gupta and Guha found that they had plenty of material. “We have already adapted five books and we’re working on the sixth now. (Which is now out!) Puffin showed interest and we’ll be bringing out more titles with them,” adds Sen Gupta whose criteria for choosing which book to adapt is simple: She looks at plot, location and the presence of Lalmohan Babu, aka Jatayu. 

The duo - Sengupta and Guha - had been working on the comic strip since 2004. They took one year over each story. The new graphic format stays true to the original plot but is visibly modernised in terms of art and text. The originals, written in the 1970s, have been revamped for the present day in the Puffin books: Feluda carries a cell phone, one of Tapesh’s bedroom walls is adorned with an Angelina Jolie poster (yes, the young man has hormones), the Kolkata landscape is crowded with buildings and there’s a smattering of Hindi, Bengali and English slang in the text. 

I don’t touch the plot at all, but Tapas and I have to visually alter it a little. Graphic novels are a visual medium and children these days relate to a more contemporary detective. We’ve had to work on the location of Feluda as a modern-day detective and add movement in the art work as well,” says Sen Gupta. I have given him a contemporary look. His clothes are 21st century and in some of the books - which I am working on - he also uses the cellphone. His nephew, Topesh, speaks like a modern-day teenager and the language is today's. I was inspired by Satyajit Ray's son Sandip Ray's movies which had contemporised Feluda. But I did not touch the plots or the landmarks that he described in the book - though I have changed some locations to make it more visually appealing, Sengupta added.

For instance, if the original book described the detective, Topesh and acolyte Lalmohan Ganguly aka Jatayu seated in a room, I put them outside to make it easy for the illustrator, said Sengupta, who worked closely with illustrator Guha.

The artwork is attractive, Guha admits that he has been careful to recreate the handsome detective. “All our heroes are good-looking and Ray did make Feluda a very handsome man. I’ve been inspired by Herge’s Tintin, the panels are clean, the page is neat and comes alive,” says Guha who has broken out of the boxed look of Indian comic books and added long panels, pop-artish colour and background for the action scenes. I tried to make illustrations colourful, smart and uncluttered. The style was absolutely mine. The figures were contemporary and I made the detective look young," adds Guha.

"Comic book illustrations have become more realistic now - since the German animation artist Herge created Tintin. They are no more fun. There is no happy humour and the colours are flat and dark. The graphic novels that come from outside are dark - probably because of their lifestyles," Guha said.

But if there is one thing that has remained constant no matter what, it is the Mogojastro, Feluda’s brain power as is evident in the 6 books in series:

1. The Feluda Mysteries: Beware In The Graveyard: A sudden violent storm takes Kolkata by surprise. It also leaves Narendra Nath Biswas injured, hit by a falling tree in the Park Street Cemetery or was it the work of some unknown assailant? Feluda starts his own investigations and soon encounters enough questions to puzzle his matchless intellect.Who was Thomas Godwin and why is someone digging up his grave? What is a Perigal Repeater? Who is this mysterious N.M. Biswas? In his search for answers, Feluda digs up the fascinating history of the Godwin family, going back to nineteenth-century Lucknow and learns about Thomas Godwin s precious heirloom.

2. The Feluda Mysteries: A Bagful Of Mystery: In A Bagful of Mystery Feluda's client Dinanath Lahiri has a strange problem. On a train from Delhi to Kolkata, someone has taken his bag and replaced it with an identical one. Can Feluda find his bag and return the new bag to its rightful owner? Behind this seemingly simple request lies a maze of mystifying questions. Did Dinanath s bag really contain a long-lost antique manuscript? Did a precious artefact find its way into the bag unknown to everyone? And who is the shadowy criminal ready to ambush them anytime, anywhere? Can Feluda solve this mystery without any real clues? Their action-packed search takes them through the busy streets of Kolkata and Delhi and into the final dangerous climax on the snowy slopes of the Simla hills. Get set for excitement, action and a startling resolution in this mystery of mixed-up bags.

3. The Feluda Mysteries: Danger In Darjeeling: Lalmohan Babu is in Bollywood! The best-selling mystery writer s novel is being made into a Hindi film and the location for the shoot is the hill-station of Darjeeling. Feluda, Topshe and Lalmohan Babu arrive in Darjeeling to watch the film being made, where they meet the mysterious Virupaksha Majumdar, a man with many secrets and a rprecious gold idol. When Virupaksha is murdered and the idol stolen, Feluda knows the answer lies in his past. Then Topshe and Lalmohan Babu discover a second body and things get very complicated. To make matters worse, one misty morning a shadowy figure viciously attacks Feluda . As the trio race against time, can they solve three perplexing crimes?

4. Feluda Mysteries: The Criminals Of Kailash: Feluda s mentor Sidhu Jetha spots a stolen sculpture at an art gallery in Calcutta. Soon Feluda, Topshe and Lalmohan Babu are on the trail of a dangerous gang of art thieves who have been stealing precious artefacts from Indian temples and smuggling them abroad. Their quest takes them to the magnificent caves of Ellora and the awesome Kailashnath Temple. But with so many suspicious characters wandering around, how will Feluda stop the evil mastermind from making off with some of the magnificicent figurines at Kailashnath Temple? Read breathlessly as Feluda and Lalmohan Babu don disguises, a film unit disrupts the investigation and Jatayu s secret weapon comes in very handy in the final thrilling showdown!

5. The Feluda Mysteries: Murder By The Sea: Feluda, Topshe and Lalmohan Babu are holidaying in the seaside town of , when they discover a dead body on the beach. And soon Feluda s holiday turns into an edge-of-the-seat hunt for the killer. Some very odd things are happening in this little coastal town. Ancient Buhist manuscripts vanish. An unknown man walks on the sand leaving very strange footprints. Lalmohan Babu finds an amazing astrologer but Topshe is not so sure. And something really spooky is going on in an abandoned house by the sea. Feluda races against time to unmask a murderer with many faces who will not hesitate to kill again.

6. The Feluda Mysteries: A Killer Of Kathmandu: The trail of a murder in a hotel in Kolkata takes Feluda, Topshe and Lalmohan Babu to the beautiful city of in . Here in the the mystery deepens. A man claims he has a double, a crook who looks exactly like him. Then there is the tragic death of a helicopter pilot who discovered a nefarious smuggling ring. The intrepid trio faces danger amidst the busy bazaars, temples and stupas of and Lalmohan Babu has a scary, out of body experience. Finally Feluda comes face to face with his greatest adversary, a ruthless villain who will stop at nothing... 

(BTW, this is same story that was made into the first ever Feluda animation film by DQ Entertainments and aired on Disney Channel last year titled as Feluda - The Kathmandu Caper - catch the trailer below:)

Ray’s influence is certainly visible in all the comic books under review, notably in the portrayal of Lalmohan Ganguli aka Jatayu, Feluda’s sidekick and purveyor of best-selling thrillers. Ray’s drawings of Jatayu have become iconic, more so because of their resemblance to the legendary Santosh Datta, the actor who played Jatayu in the two Feluda films directed by Ray senior (later cinematic Jatayus have been depressingly bad). Happily, Tapas Guha’s drawing of Jatayu is also faithful to that ideal.

The same, however, cannot be said about Feluda and Topshe. To begin with, not once do we see Feluda in his trademark kurta with trousers. Likewise, Topshe, who tends to copy Feluda in matters sartorial, is seen wearing rather preppy cargo pants and sweatshirts.

Some purists might be shocked at the poster of Angelina Jolie tacked on to his bedroom wall. What is more troubling is the anachronism perpetrated, for a few pages later, the three are shown going to Blue Fox restaurant with a live band playing, something which last happened in the 1970s. The use of a photo in lieu of an illustration also indicates a larger problem with the art in general: All too often, Guha seems to have taken the easy way out by photographing a city landmark and then photoshopping it all too visibly. Within the same frame, therefore, we have realistic bookshelves or monuments but line drawings of the characters themselves. The other noticeable feature is the all-too-evident influence of Tintin comics, particularly in A Bagful of Mystery, where frames from both Tintin in Tibet and Tintin and the Picaros make guest appearances. Such “quotations” are not uncommon in visual media but some sort of acknowledgment—either direct or indirect—is usually part of the protocol.

Coming to the script, it is hard to go wrong with Ray’s stories, since they are often written like cinematic scripts or storyboards. The relaxed, conversational style of his storytelling lends itself easily to translation and adaptation, and Subhadra Sengupta on the whole does a fairly good job of it. The problem, though, is with Topshe. In the stories, he is the first-person narrator and the organizer of narrative: As a result, we get to hear his voice and thoughts throughout.

Due to the textual limitations of the comic book medium, there is much less space for his voice in it. Sengupta tried to address this lack by giving him a new voice and something of a life: thus the pin-up in the bedroom and a speech peppered with “wows” and “cools” (and somewhat jarringly, “who the hell” when Jatayu’s green Ambassador parps its way down Rajani Sen Road).

Overall, though, all the books are adequate introductions to a readership not familiar with Bengali, and could whet the appetite for reading the full-dress translation. At the same time, one wishes that the series had not been conceived solely for a juvenile readership. The richness of the Feluda stories, especially with reference to locale and setting, calls for a full-fledged graphic novel which takes delight in history, antiquity and art, as well as the shifting perspectives of a modern city. An artist of such a novel would be well advised to view Ray’s city films, to see how his ways of seeing might be applied to the medium of the comic. I strongly recommend you lay your hands on the books asap - to order the series, you could use this link.


Subhadra Sen Gupta was born in Delhi and holds a master s degree in history. She has been writing since college and has worked as a copywriter in many advertising agencies. She specializes in historical fiction and non-fiction, travel writing, detectives and ghost stories as well as comic strips. She has published over twenty-five books for children and adults, with Puffin, Rupa, Scholastic, HarperCollins, Pratham, India Book House and Ratna Sagar. Three of her books A Clown for Tenali Rama, Jodh Bai and Twelve O Clock Ghost Stories (Scholastic) have won the White Raven Award at the Bologna Children s Book Fair.

Tapas Guha
is a well-known illustrator who loves dreaming up comic strips. As a kid he taught himself to draw by studying the illustrations of comics like Tintin, Phantom, Mandrake and of course Satyajit Ray. You can see samples of his work at

(Ananda Publishers had also published some Bengali Feluda Comics versions as well - you can read them here)