Thursday, January 26, 2012

The city that got left behind - Reviving Kolkata || The Economist

Can India’s original economic powerhouse get its act together again?

A NATIVE-BORN writer, Amit Chaudhuri, says that Calcutta should be compared to world cities like New York and Paris for its rich past and mix of influences. Yet ever since the Suez Canal was built in 1869, boosting trade in Bombay (now Mumbai), people have said the city (now Kolkata) has been going to the dogs. They have been right. Calcutta lost its title as India’s capital a century ago, and its status as the country’s industrial engine in the 1950s. By the early 1970s visitors were making apocalyptic predictions of plagues and starving, rampaging mobs, and by the end of that decade Marxists were in charge. Today Kolkata evokes Havana, beautiful but shabby, the last city to remain largely untouched by India’s 20-year boom. “I love the city, but am ashamed of its condition,” says Sandipan Chakravortty, boss of one of the few units of the giant Tata Group to be based there.

Now West Bengal, the state which Kolkata dominates, has a new government, led by the redoubtable Mamata Banerjee. Her victory in an election last year ended over three decades of Marxist misrule. She insists that she will turn things around in the state. But she is also a figure of national importance, because her Trinamool Congress is a key ally of the Congress Party, which heads the ruling national coalition. Her rise will be a test of two things: whether the bits of India left behind can catch up, and whether a populist who depends largely on a rural base for support can still prove to be a reformer.

The incoming West Bengal government has inherited a mess. The finance minister, Amit Mitra, an economist and former boss of India’s main business lobby, stands in an office in Writers’ Building, once used by the East India Company. His desk is laden with the thick, string-bound paper dossiers beloved of Indian civil servants and cordially loathed by everyone else. “No one knows where all the files are,” he says, accusing the last lot of administrative chaos and unpaid bills. The state’s finances are rotten. Mr Mitra is trying to raise tax revenues, while seeking debt forgiveness from the central government. Reforming the bureaucracy is vital, too, amid claims that it is politicised. “They created a fascist structure while wearing the mask of democracy,” he says of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) that used to rule.

How much economic damage the communists really did is contested. State-level GDP figures suggest a performance in line with India’s average in recent decades. Supporters of the communists point to progress in agriculture and services. But foes mutter that the state-level GDP statistics are assembled locally and of doubtful accuracy. And no one disputes that West Bengal has suffered deindustrialisation on a par with the likes of Detroit. According to the central bank, the state accounted for a quarter of India’s industrial capital stock in 1950. By 1960 it contributed 13% of manufacturing output and by 2000 just 7%.

Other measures are just as dire. Bank lending is below the national average. Calcutta’s population fell slightly over the past decade, no mean achievement in a rapidly urbanising country. Only one big non-state firm is based there, after an exodus that began in the 1960s. Most pitifully of all, West Bengal has received less than 2% of the foreign direct investment that poured into India over the past decade.

One explanation for all this is that Bengalis, whose large diaspora in India and elsewhere is conspicuously successful, make lousy entrepreneurs at home. “A Bengali thinks like a communist; he has it in his blood,” says one boss, while buzzing for a minion to come and light his cigarette. Like many of the region’s remaining businessmen, his family roots are in Rajasthan. But the prime culprits for industrial decline are the politicisation of land tenure, which makes it hard for firms to get space, and dreadful industrial relations. West Bengal has a lexicon of strife, with goons who flex political muscles on the streets and widespread gheraos (taking bosses hostage) and bandhs (general strikes).

Keeping a lid on strikes has been one of the new government’s first achievements. Now it is trying to love-bomb Indian businesses into investing again, in the hope of creating a virtuous circle of more jobs and tax revenues. Mr Mitra, the finance minister, says the signs are encouraging. Both TCS and Cognizant, two big technology firms, say they plan to expand operations in Kolkata, attracted by still-good universities. Tourism in Kolkata has potential, given the glorious colonial-era architecture, plenty of culture and an alluring nightlife. But first the city needs an airport that is not in the stone age.

Complicating things, however, is the ambiguous attitude towards business of Ms Banerjee herself. In 2008 she led the opposition to Tata building a big car factory in rural West Bengal, arguing that farmers were being exploited. Tata moved the factory to Gujarat, a booming western state, leaving, as an entrepreneur puts it, “a very heavy hangover”. In late 2011 Ms Banerjee failed to support both the central government’s plans to let foreign supermarkets into India and its latest attempt to pass an anti-corruption bill. Some worry that her relations with Congress have become so dire that her own Trinamool party may leave the coalition.

Local business folk also fret about too charismatic a style of leadership. In a typical recent week Ms Banerjee kept to a hyperactive schedule that included personally dealing with a hospital fire and an alcohol-poisoning scandal. They say a framework for long-term decision-making has not been put in place. The head of a business group says “a lot of people are paying lip service” to the idea that things are changing, but they continue to invest outside the state. An entrepreneur who runs a chain of schools is even more pessimistic.
The new government is dangerously populist, with “no ideology, no vision.”

That is unfair, but if the government cannot convince local businesspeople, it has little hope of wooing capital from elsewhere, especially when other states, led by Gujarat, have well-oiled machines for attracting money and talent. The hope is that the new government will soon find its feet and turn its attention to reintegrating Kolkata into a global economy that it was once, long ago, at the heart of. Ms Banerjee may be in power for some time, so she has the potential to develop the kind of long-term strategy that is needed for success. The fear is that inaction combined with her popularity in the countryside will condemn the city to yet another decade as India’s capital of stagnation.

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.

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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 www.tapasguha.com.

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

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Sherlock Holmes and Feluda

Sherlock Holmes and the tragedy of Feluda

The contrast in the fates of Arthur Conan Doyle's and Satyajit Ray's super sleuths is a study in despair, says Sumit Bhattacharya.  (rediff.com)

Sherlock Holmes is an Internet phenomenon -- thanks to a blog Dr John Watson, a British army doctor back from Afghanistan, writes on his adventures with his flatmate. Holmes plays the violin, can differentiate between 243 kinds of cigarette ash, is addicted to text messaging on his mobile phone. And everyone -- from the police to the palace -- runs to him to solve crimes that vex all.


I'm sure you've caught on that this Sherlock is the BBC's latest television phenomenon, with Benedict Cumberbatch as the manic mastersleuth and Martin Freeman as his lackey, which will air the last episode of its hugely successful second season on January 15.


And I'm sure you'll agree that it is miles ahead of the movie series (Sherlock Holmes - 2009, Sherlock Holmes - A Game of Shadows - 2011) helmed by Guy Ritchie, though the British director has stamped his signature style of slow-motion mayhem all over the movie franchise. Robert Downey Jr  and Jude Law (Holmes and Watson in the movies), too, have got many women suddenly interested in a sociopathic private detective from early 20th century London.




To be fair, Game Of Shadows was good, maybe even resembling Sherlock Holmes. But the BBC series stands out, with its wicked mix of 21st century savvy with Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock's timeless traits. Its season opener for season two, Scandal In Belgravia (from Doyle's Scandal in Bohemia), for instance, had Irene Adler storing scandalous photographs and terrorist secrets in her locked camera phone that Holmes had to crack. The Hounds of Baskerville episode last week was pretty scary albeit a bit far-fetched, and involved biological warfare. And millions across the world -- it is aired on PBS in the US -- are waiting for the season finale this Sunday, Reichenbach Falls, in which Holmes will fall with his archenemy Jim Moriarty. To see what twists writers Steven Moffat and Mark Gattis come up with this time.

Compare all that buzzing excitement to the screen fate of Satyajit Ray's inspired, Indianised take on Sherlock Holmes, Pradosh Chandra Mitter aka Feluda, and you feel like banging your head against a wall. Ray, India's only Oscar-winning director (for Lifetime Achievement), made a living writing spectacularly successful children's books and stories in Bengali. 'The world knows me as a filmmaker, but it is my writing that brings home the bread,' he once said.

He wrote a series of books about the adventures of Feluda. And he made two of those books into successful films: Sonar Kella (!974) and Joy Baba Felunath (1979).


Like the books, the films are timeless wonders, featuring Ray's warhorse Soumitra Chatterjee as Feluda and and Santosh Dutta -- a hotshot lawyer in real life -- as cheap-thriller writer Lalmohan Ganguly aka Jatayu, the buffoonish counterfoil to Feluda's brilliance.Almost every Bengali knows the dialogues of both films by heart. (Below is an iconic scene that we all love:)


Since Satyajit Ray's death, his son Sandip Ray has made more Feluda films than his father did. Films that compete with each other in mediocrity, and are sometimes so bad (like 2010's Gorosthane Sabhdhan) that even Feluda fanatics can't sit through them. (Well obviously Sumit hasn't met me!)



The newest Feluda film in theatres for two weeks now, Royal Bengal Rahasya, is one of Sandip Ray's better films. But it is still at best mediocre, with a pot-bellied Feluda and amateurish visual effects and sound design.

A pity again, because Satyajit Ray's films are audio-visual feasts. The musical theme he wrote (he was an avid organ player and fan of Johann Sebastian Bach) for the series that was so catchy that even now a Bollywood director is 'inspired' by it when he makes a theme for a film like Paa.

The plot for Royal Bengal Rahasya, if you have read the book, is full of promise. A rich retired hunter-turned-writer with a house in the foothills of the Himalayas invites Feluda to solve a riddle his grandfather left. But once Feluda reaches there with Jatayu and Topshey (Feluda's Watson, his younger cousin), a tiger kills the host's secretary. Is there more lurking in the jungle than a man-eater? Feluda starts sniffing a whole different puzzle. The movie is a thoroughly unimaginative rendering of the story in toto, without an iota of the finesse, sharpness, wit or humour that sparkled through almost every line and every frame Satyajit Ray created.

This is a fossilised Feluda. Stuck in a time warp. It looks like a play in an age where even the worst Bollywood films have acquired a certain gloss. And its actors don't have enough charisma to carry off a theatre treatment. Yet, it is one of Sandip Ray's better films. So you can imagine how low the bar has been set. Some say it's a burden of legacy, but to me it seems like we have become so used to mediocrity that we are inventing excuses for it. Even Holmes had an onscreen legacy in Jeremy Brett.

Sorry to say, Sandip Ray has consistently got it wrong -- since the day he tried to make a Hindi TV serial on Feluda with a middle-aged Shashi Kapoor. No wonder the serial fizzled out. A young Shashi Kapoor could have made a great Feluda, of course. 

Like thousands -- if not millions -- of Bengali children, I used to stand in line outside the Ananda Publishers' stall at the Calcutta Book Fair every year, holding my mother or my father's hand, to buy the newest Feluda book. Yesterday, when I took my parents to watch Royal Bengal Rahasya, I held my mother's hand to help her down the stairs. That was the only part I felt good in the evening out.

Maybe I should be grateful that the Professor Shonku series of science fiction that Satyajit Ray wrote and the master's Roald Dahl-esque short stories have been spared. So far.Maybe someday, a bright young director/screenwriter will re-imagine Feluda. Or make a fantastic period film that brings out the appeal of the books. Or make a Professor Shonku film with world-class special effects.

But for now, I feel like banging my head against a wall.

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Counterview:  Feluda must go on…

Roshmila Bhattacharya, Hindustan Times | Mumbai, January 08, 2012
I brought in the New Year with Feluda. A cocktail of death and drama, hissing snakes, hidden treasure, a half-mad brother and a man-eating tiger, I couldn’t have asked for a better start to 2012. A couple of days later, I was on the phone with Sandip Ray, wondering about a follow-up to Royal Bengal Rahasya. Satyajit Ray’s director son admitted he was Clueless, having run through his list of stories for the screen.

Besides, with Bibhu Bhattacharya passing away after canning his last shot, and Sabyasachi Chakraborty, at 55, way over Feluda’s age (27), he had to look for a new Felu and Jataju. The desi detective wouldn’t return for at least two years.

My sigh will find an echo not just in Bengal, but elsewhere in the country too, Pradosh C Mitter having become a household name.

At 6 feet 2 inches, with a handy 32 Colt revolver and an analytical mind referred to as the Magajastra or brain weapon, he first appeared in Feludar Goendagiri (1965), a story Ray penned for Sandesh, the children’s magazine his father, Upendrakishore Ray, had started and which he was editing.

He wrote 35 stories that made the Charminar-smoking private investigator a worthy match for the pipe-puffing Sherlock Holmes.

 “Why don’t you plan a Feluda exhibition in the interim?” I urged Sandipda.

He loved the idea “I have plenty of illustrations, original manuscripts and working stills, that along with behind-the-scenes anecdotes, film clips and Feluda books would be a  crowd-puller.  We could take the exhibition to metros like Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore, even abroad.”

While I wait for the exhibition, I go back to the first of the Feluda movies, Sonar Kella (The Golden Fortress, 1974). Sandipda, who was assisting his baba (father), recalled an outstanding performance by Kushal Chakravarty as Mukul. He also has fond memories of the other Mukul, mistakenly kidnapped in the film first.

It was Shantanu Bagchi’s first film and Ray handed over a long dialogue sheet, wondering how many retakes he’d require. Mukul reeled off the lines in one perfect take. A delighted Ray patted him on the back and told him to go out and play.

“I was outside, Shantanu strolled up to me and asked with complete seriousness,"Why did jethu (uncle) give me such boka boka (silly) lines?’” Sandipda laughed, disappointed the remarkable actor didn’t do another movie.

“I’m told he is working with an advertising firm in Mumbai. I’d love to meet the grown-up Mukul.”

From the sand stone fortress in Jaisalmer and the  narrow bylanes of Varanasi (Joy Baba Felunath, 1979), Feluda took a giant leap into the new millennium with the climax of Tintorettor Jishu (Tintoretto’s Jesus, 2008)  filmed in Hong Kong.

“The film was 80 per cent complete in 2006. We’d shot in Kolkata, Jhargram and Chattisgarh, and only the climax was remaining, when we hit a roadblock. In the book, the villain is unmasked in Hong Kong, but for financial reasons, the original producer wanted to shoot in Singapore or Bangkok. I refused to compromise, so the film was shelved for two years,” revealed Sandipda.

Meanwhile, Arijit Gupta expressed interest in another Feluda story and the super success of Kailashey Kelenkari (A Killer In Kailash, 2007) lead to Tintorettor Jishu being revived and released in December 2008. They shot in Kowloon, Hong Kong island and even the Gold Coast “It made for stunning visuals!”

Sandipda was equally overwhelmed by the Kailash temple in Ellora’s Cave 10, one of the natural sets of Kailashey Kelenkari, along with Cave 15, world famous for its Dusavatar, and Cave 19 that depicts Sita ki kahani (Sita’s story).

“Baba had visited the caves back in the ’40s, traveling in a bullock cart from Aurangabad. I drove down 70 years later, but the sight of the Kailash temple left me speechless as well,” he admitted.

Sandipda, however, had to update the story that had first appeared in the Durga Puja special of the Bengali periodical Desh in 1973, “You don't expect Feluda to get clues through trunk calls today, do you?” he laughed.

“Life has changed since the sedate ’70s become more  action-packed.”

So will the new Feluda change from Sherlock Holmes to James Bond?

I don’t think so. We’ve had three Feludas since the cerebral Soumitra Chatterjee, a more physical Sabyasachi, and in the mid-’80s, Shashi Kapoor in Satyajit Ray Presents on DD, whose wig was a problem and who was an absolute no-no in Bengal. Who’s next? I’ve invited suggestions on Facebook and Twitter.

Let’s join Sandipda in this hunt. It can turn out to be just as interesting as the stories we’ve grown up reading. (I agree!)

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My view: Keep them coming... I love them all - both Holmes and Feluda in their avataars! The more the merrier :)

In fact, I have all the Feluda stuff that I could get my hands on - the original Satyajit Ray books, the English translations, the comics series in English and Bengali and the radio plays by AIR (Feluda: Soumitra), BBC (Feluda: Rahul Bose) and  Radio Mirchi Sunday Suspense (Feluda: Sabyasachi). I have been scouring bookshops and the internet for Feluda Tirish (Sandip Ray's original adaptations for television), the hindi version made by Sandip Ray for TV as a part of "Satyajit Ray Presents" and the recent animation adaptation that was aired on Disney Channel (and I keep missing it!)

Apart from this I have also caught various "bootlegged" versions on Youtube including this version called "Retired Feluda" - a story penned by Ritwik Mukherjee fictionalising Feluda, the legend of Bengali Literature, as an grown up and eccentric guy, and his comeback to the detective world.





And here's the trailer of a St. Xavier's College presentation of Ghurghutiar Ghotona - youtube it:


... and a video montage:

So let's give Sandip Ray a break - to say that he has colossal shoes to fill, would be the understatement of the millenium. He is trying his best to keep the legacy alive and in my opinion, all six films (seven, if you count Dr. Munshir Diary - the telefilm) are entertaining and honest attempts. I have enjoyed many afternoons of bliss with my grandmother at Priya Cinema watching Feluda back in action. And I look forward to as many more installments that I can get. I shudder to think who would fit the bill once Sabyasachi decides to hang up his boots.

In the meantime, here's Sandip Ray on the Feluda Phenonmenon and Feluda... back in action!. Also read this interesting take on the series.

Sandip Ray on how Feluda was created:

Ciao. I have to go back to listening to Badsahi Angti on Sunday Suspense.