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The Feluda Films of Satyajit Ray

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A painting of Satyajit Ray. Picture courtesy of Rishiraj Sahoo, under Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Creative Commons License.

Feluda, also known as Pradosh Chandra Mitter, is a detective character who appears both in books and films. He was created by Satyajit Ray, the Oscar-winning film-director from Kolkata1, India. Although known primarily as a film-maker, Kolkata also reveres Ray as a writer. His other creations were Professor Shanku and Tarini Khuro (Uncle Tarini). He also wrote numerous short stories. Feluda is said to be a cross between Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes, Hergé's Tintin and George Lucas' Indiana Jones. Feluda stories are written and filmed in Bengali.

After the death of Satyajit Ray in 1993, there were no more Feluda books, but his legend lived on: the writer's son Sandip Ray brought the character of Feluda to new audiences, both on television and the big screen. The Feluda business is still thriving to this day.

The Satyajit Ray Era

Feluda first appeared in December 1965 in Sandesh, a children's periodical edited by Ray himself - and founded by his grandfather, writer Upendrakishore Raychoudhury. The story was Feludar Goendagiri (Feluda's Investigation), and was set in Darjeeling, a hill-station in India. The super-sleuth Feluda is assisted by his cousin Tapesh Ranjan Mitter (Topshe), a teenager, who is the narrator of the stories. Later, the thriller writer Lalmohan Ganguly, more popularly known by his pen-name Jatayu, joins to form the trio. A short and simple man, Jatayu provides comic relief to the readers, and gradually became Ray's favourite and an indispensable character in the Feluda series.

The word Feluda is actually formed from Felu and da, which means Brother Felu. Da is a short form of the Bengali word dada which means elder brother. Pradosh Mitter is called Feluda in the novels, as the narrator Topshe is his younger cousin. Similarly, Feluda is called Felubabu by Jatayu which means Mr Felu, is just called Felu by his elder family members, friends and relatives and, more endearingly, Feluchand by Sidhu-jatha.

Ray made the first Feluda film based on his novel Sonar Kella (The Golden Fortress) in 1974. It was set against the backdrop of Rajasthan, the West Indian state strewn with desert, forts and royal stories, heroic deeds and folklore. The story deals with the kidnapping of a child, a treasure hunt, an attempted murder, identity theft and also explored the concept of reincarnation. This is also the story in which Jatayu is introduced.

Sonar Kella was followed by Joi Baba Felunath (The Mystery of the Elephant God) in 1979. This story was set in Benares, the holy city of India. It explores religious exploitation, and the crime of stealing, or procuring by unfair means up to and including homicide, of art objects of ancient India and selling them to rich foreign collectors. The villain Maganlal Meghraj, who returns to appear in two more Feluda stories, was played by renowned Indian actor Utpal Dutt.

Both these films had Soumitra Chatterjee, Siddhartha Chatterjee and Santosh Dutta playing the roles of the trio of Feluda, Topshe and Jatayu. All three actors suited the roles perfectly. They also played the roles in a radio play, Baksa Rahasya (The Mystery of the Kalka Mail)2 for All India Radio, directed by Ray. The story starts off in Kolkata, and then the trio travels to Delhi, the national capital, and to Simla, another hill station in India. It deals with a stolen diamond and a priceless unpublished manuscript.

Kissa Kathmandu Ka, based on the novel Jato Kando Kathmandute (The Criminals of Kathmandu), was filmed in Hindi as a part of the serial Satyajit Ray Presents, for the Doordarshan3 in 1986 by Sandip Ray, Satyajit Ray's son. Ray Sr wrote the screenplay for the film. The backdrop of the story is Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, and it deals with the fake medicine racket. The trio was played by Shashi Kapoor, Alankar and Mohan Agasse. The vile Maganlal Meghraj is back again played by Utpal Dutt. A good crime serial, it was not seen as a good Feluda film. Feluda fans rejected Shashi Kapoor; he is a gifted and popular actor, but was not considered a good choice for the role of Feluda. The same is probably true of Mohan Agasse.

The mid-1980s saw the demise of Santosh Dutta, and Ray decided never to film a Feluda story again, although he went on writing them at a phenomenal rate till the end of his days.

Satyajit Ray used to be very choosy about letting other directors use his stories to make films, and Feluda was already an icon and a cult now in West Bengal, so other film-makers too were very apprehensive about making a Feluda film with a new Feluda and more so a new Jatayu.

A few years later, Bibhas Chakrabortty, another eminent director from Kolkata, filmed two of Ray's Feluda stories for television: Ghurghutiar Ghatana (The Locked Chest) and Golokdham Rahasya (Mystery at Golok Lodge). The first one is set in Ghurghutia, a remote village in West Bengal4. It deals with a vicious murder, impersonations, a talking parrot, a code for a chest hidden in a riddle, and deceptions and intrigues. Golokdham Rahasya is set in Kolkata itself and deals with professional jealousy, and long nurtured vengeance. These two stories did not feature Jatayu as one of the characters, and Topshe was played by Indranil Halder and Badsha Sengupta respectively. Needless to say, Soumitra Chatterjee continued to play the role of Feluda.

Satyajit Ray passed away in 1993, Robertsoner Ruby (Robertson's Ruby) and Indrajal Rahasya (The Magical Mystery) being the last Feluda novels. Feluda fans had to swallow the bitter pill that they would no longer have a new Feluda story to read, but they still lived with the hope that a new Feluda film would be ready very soon...

The Sandip Ray Era — New Generation films

Sandip Ray announced in the late 1990s that he was working on a new Feluda film with new faces for the trio - Feluda, Topshe and Jatayu. Fans were curious to know who would be cast in the roles. Soumitra Chatterjee and Santosh Dutta had been perfect as Feluda and Jatayu, but now Chatterjee had become too old for the part, and Dutta had passed away. Chatterjee had in fact said to the media that he would play no more Feluda roles. People argued that no one could replace him, and that it was equally impossible to replace Dutta as Jatayu. But many others pointed out that Sherlock Holmes has been played by so many actors, and so has been James Bond, so why not Feluda? Just because Satyajit Ray and Santosh Dutta were no more, and Soumitra could no longer play Feluda, it was not justified to archive the super-sleuth Feluda forever.

To a mixed response, Sandip Ray chose three new actors: Sabyasachi Chakrobortty for Feluda, Saswata Chatterjee for Topshe and veteran actor Robi Ghosh for Jatayu. Although Saswata was a new face, Sabyasachi Chakrobortty was an experienced TV actor and fans looked forward to seeing him as the new Feluda. Soumitra Chatterjee, the original Feluda, was also overjoyed. He took it sportingly, agreeing to the fact that he was too old now to be Feluda.

Ray decided to make a series of five films for television, to celebrate 30 years since the first Feluda novel. The series was to be called Feluda 30.

The first film was Baksa Rahasya (The Mystery of the Kalka Mail), which had already been presented as a radio play by Satyajit Ray. As mentioned earlier, the story is set in Kolkata, Delhi and Simla, and deals with a stolen diamond and a priceless unpublished manuscript.

The film was supposed to be televised on 2 May, Satyajit Ray's birthday, but red tape led to delays, and Sandip Ray went for a showing of the television version in a cinema in Kolkata5. Fans rushed to watch it. Although Robi Ghosh was a great and veteran actor, he was no match for Santosh Dutta as Jatayu. However, Sabyasachi did a pretty decent job, and although he had a lot of areas to work on in order to suit the role, the viewers accepted the new Feluda.

The First Misfortune

The other four films of the series were being made for the Kolkata Doordarshan television channel. Because of the delays in bringing the first film to the screen, the second film of the series had already been made. Sandip Ray was all set to make the remaining three films. However, little did he know about the mishap fate had in store for him.

While the first film, Baksa Rahasya, was on air, Robi Ghosh passed away. It was a shock and a great loss for the Bengali film industry, and more so for Feluda fans, as a big question mark again hung over the role of Jatayu. Sandip Ray had little time to decide, as two of the three stories yet to be filmed needed the character of Jatayu. Many names came up, one being Manoj Mitra and another Anup Kumar - both veteran actors of great calibre.

Once Baksa Rahasya was over, it was the turn of Gosainpur Sargaram (The Mystery of the Walking Dead). This was the last film with Robi Ghosh as Jatayu. The story was set in Gosainpur, a remote village in West Bengal, and dealt with intrigue and deception, and an eccentric old man who had cut himself off from all modern amenities of life after getting an electric shock once!

This was followed by Sheyal Debota Rahasya (The Anubis Mystery). The story revolves around a statuette of Anubis, the Egyptian jackal-god. Set in Kolkata, the story explores eeriness, greed, lust and deception. This story did not have Jatayu as one of the characters.

The time came, now, for a new Jatayu, and the story in line was Bosepukure Khunkharapi (The Acharya Murder Case). Once again set in Kolkata, Bosepukure Khunkharapi explores professional jealousy, murder of a young jatra6 playwright, and betrayal. Anup Kumar was finally short-listed, but Feluda fans were not at all happy, as he had a completely different look as compared to how Satyajit Ray had drawn this favourite character of his in so many of his stories.

The next story might be considered the most elegant one of the new generation of films. It was Jato Kando Kathmandute (The Criminals of Kathmandu), a remake of the movie already filmed by Sandip Ray in Hindi. Set in Kathmandu, Nepal, the film was a feast for the eyes. The scenic beauty and natural wonders of Nepal made the film a great one to watch. The story itself was very intriguing. As mentioned earlier, it was about a fake medicine racket. Mohan Agasse, who played Jatayu in the Hindi version, was back on screen, this time in the opposite role as the wily Maganlal Meghraj. As Utpal Dutt was no more, Sandip Ray had to go for a new Maganlal Meghraj this time. Agasse did a great job and was accepted by all Feluda fans as suitable for the role of Maganlal after Dutt. The original screenplay written by Satyajit Ray was used, which possibly explains why this has been by far the best of the new generation of Feluda films.

History Repeats Itself

Then another mishap followed, with Anup Kumar passing away. Sandip Ray was very upset. It looked like the role of Jatayu was cursed. Not only had the actors died untimely deaths, but each had played Jatayu in just two films. However, Ray was not a man to cling to superstitions and prejudices and let go of his dreams and aspirations. After about a year, he again started to look for a new Jatayu, and this time it was Bibhu Bhattacharya who was short-listed.

A new tele-serial started called Satyajiter Gappo (Stories by Satyajit Ray). It began with a few non-Feluda short stories; in some, the screenplay had also been written by the author (during the making of Satyajit Ray Presents); then there was to be four films based on Feluda stories. Feluda fans were waiting eagerly to watch the new Feluda films, and of course the new Jatayu.

By now, Sandip Ray was already working on a Feluda film for the big screen. He had three stories in mind — Bombaiyer Bombete, Kailashe Kelenkari and Gorosthane Sabdhan (Trouble in the Graveyard). Now, crime stories fall into two broad categories:

  1. The whodunit type, where the reader or the audience does not know who the criminal is. The thrill is in the suspense to know who has committed the crime.

  2. The thriller type, where the reader or the audience knows who the criminal is, and the thrill is to watch how the sleuth reaches the conclusion and captures the criminal.

Satyajit Ray had decided, and Sandip Ray agreed, that a big-screen film could not be made in a 'whodunit' format, as it reduces the chances of a member of the audience going to see the film again, or even for a first time if some spoil-sport has already disclosed in the public who the criminal is! On the other hand, it is a good idea to follow the 'whodunit' format on television, as there is less chance of repeat viewing. As we see in Sonar Kella and Joi Baba Felunath, the thriller format had been adopted in filming, although Sonar Kella was written in a 'Whodunit' format like other Feluda stories. However, for all the other films, which were made for the TV, the 'whodunit' format was retained. It seemed, Sandip Ray wanted to experiment with a thriller format on the TV now, before he went for the big screen.

It was the turn of Ghutghutiar Ghatana (The Locked Chest), based on Satyajit Ray's story. The story did not feature Jatayu as a character. It had already been filmed once by Bibhas Chakrobortty, as discussed earlier, with Soumitra Chatterjee as Feluda. This time, although the same old wine was being served, it was of course in a new bottle. Yes, the new bottle was the thriller format. It was without doubt a success. Viewers enjoyed the second screen version of the story, this time from a different point of view.

Now the time came for the launching of the new Jatayu. The next story in the series was Jahangirer Swarnamudra (The Gold Coins of Jehangir). The story was set in Panihati, a town in West Bengal, in the outskirts of Kolkata, and explored familial jealousy, a theft of gold coins belonging to the 4th Mughal emperor Jehangir, black-mailing and treason. Bibhu Bhattacharya did a pretty decent job as Jatayu. He was a perfect match for the role after Santosh Dutta as per the sketches made by Satyajit Ray, although he is not as great an actor as his predecessors. By now, even Sabyasachi Chakrobortty had improved a lot to suit the role of Feluda, and the trio was accepted by Feluda fans all through West Bengal.

The next story in the series was Ambar Sen Antardhan Rahasya (The Disappearance of Ambar Sen)7. The story was set in Kolkata, 'the city of joy'. It deals with the 'kidnapping' of Ambar Sen and a theft. Feluda fans had a surprise in store in the very first scene of the film. Feluda's client, Ambar Sen, was played by none other than Soumitra Chatterjee, the first Feluda and many people's favourite.

As Feluda had opined many times, 'When an educated, intelligent and clever person gets into crime, remember he is to be the most cunning, most wily and most vicious.' The same was a reflection of Maganlal Meghraj. The wily, vicious villain of the Feluda series was back in the next story. It was Golapi Mukta Rahasya (The Mystery of the Pink Pearl8). Needless to mention, Mohan Agasse was back too for the role. The story sees the trio back to Benares, the holy city. It deals with a priceless pink pearl and robbery - read the story to get a shock at the end. It was a nostalgic experience for Feluda fans, as they watched the trio once again revel in Benares, after Joi Baba Felunath. As per the story, the trio checked in to the same lodge, and also visited Maganlal at his residence. Sandip Ray too used the same buildings Satyajit Ray had used for the lodge and for Maganlal's abode. Even the lodge manager was the same person, though much older now. The story starts at a village in West Bengal; the trio travels to Benares followed by Agra, the city of the beautiful Taj Mahal, the icon of India. With the completion of this film, Bibhu Bhattacharya broke the Jatayu jinx. He had by then played Jatayu in three films, unlike his predecessors, who had acted in only two each before their untimely deaths.

New Projects

A few months passed, and Sandip Ray concentrated on other projects, leaving aside Feluda for a while. A new tele-serial started — Satyajiter Priyo Galpo (Satyajit Ray's Favourite Stories), with stories by Satyajit Ray (including those of the Tarini Khuro series) and by other eminent Bengali authors too. Saswata played the role of the young Tarini, while Subhendu Chatterjee, a veteran actor of great calibre and Saswata's father, played the old Tarini's role. This series was also a great success.

Before going for a full-length Feluda film for the big screen, Sandip Ray probably wanted to experiment with a full-length film for the television. He decided on a Whodunit type. The story was Doctor Munshir Diary (Dr Munshi's Diary). It was once again set in Kolkata, and involved a psychiatrist's journal, a vicious murder, the killing of a pet leopard, a theft and strange psychic cases!

Sandip Ray now decided he had made enough small-screen Feluda films. The time was ripe to go for the big screen now. He had already tested the popularity of the new faces in the role of the trio (or as Jatayu often used to say — The Three Musketeers!). It had been a sure success. But there was one problem: Sandip Ray had to make a difficult decision, paying heed to the feedback of Feluda fans. Saswata Chatterjee had grown up now, and was no longer suitable as the teenage Topshe. Sandip Ray now had to look for a new and younger face to play the role of Feluda's cousin and assistant.

Next-Generation Feluda on the Big Screen

The story had already been chosen and set aside by Sandip Ray for a big-screen film. It was Bombaiyer Bombete (The Buccaneers of Bombay). The film was released on 12 December, 2003. The action starts in Kolkata, and then the trio travels to Bombay (Mumbai) to watch the shooting of the film Jet Bahadur based on Jatayu's thriller novel. The story involves vicious murders and a priceless jewel-studded necklace owned by Nana Saheb9. A new Topshe was launched in the film: Parambrata Chatterjee, a popular face in Bengali serials. The film was a super-hit, and the success of the new trio as the 'Three Musketeers' was established.

A milestone achieved, Sandip Ray now focussed on making other big-screen films based on stories by other great writers in Bengali. Feluda fans started getting impatient, as they were eagerly waiting for another Feluda film. Shooting for Tintorettor Jishu started. The trio had to travel in a foreign land, and problems cropped up shooting there. The project had to be shelved. However, Sandip Ray also had plan B in mind.

In May 2008, Kailase Kelenkari (A Killer in Kailash) was released. This was an exciting thriller, starting in Kolkata, then into the outskirts at Siddiqpur, and on to Aurangabad in Maharashtra and finally to Ellora, famous for cave temples carved in the Rashtrakuta era of ancient Indian history. The film was a feast for the eyes. The story explores vandalism, the looting of historical monuments and temples for stone statues to be sold off to the West. The glimpses of architectural monuments in Aurangabad and the carvings at the cave temples in Ellora make the film a must-watch.

Feluda's client here is Sidhu-jatha10, Siddheshwar Bose. Feluda describes him as 'the walking encyclopaedia' and Sidhu-jatha describes himself thus: 'Sherlock Holmes had an elder brother, Mycroft Holmes. Although he was very lazy, he was really a big brother to Sherlock in intelligence. Even Sherlock often used to pay visits to Mycroft for his help. Similarly, I am the Mycroft to Felu.'

Sandip Ray had shelved the Feluda film Tintorettor Jishu (Tintoretto's Jesus) due to production difficulties, but he had not scrapped it. Now it was time for him to complete the unfinished work. The story starts in Baikunthopur in West Bengal, and then the trio travels to Bhagwangarh in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh; they go as far as Hong Kong to coerce the villain. Released in December 2008, this was the first Feluda film set in a foreign land. It deals with a vicious deception, a painting of Jesus Christ by the famous late Renaissance Italian painter Tintoretto, the theft of the same and the cruel murder of a pet dog.

This was the last Feluda film up to the time of writing (November 2009), and Feluda fans are waiting eagerly to know when the next Feluda film will be released.

Stylistic Differences

It is interesting to compare the portrayals of Feluda by the two actors Soumitra Chatterjee and Sabyasachi Chakrobortty. Chatterjee was more a 'guy next door', and Chakrobortty looks more serious, though he gradually made himself into a more amicable Feluda. Chatterjee as Feluda was a more cerebral sleuth, whereas Chakrobortty is more into power-play. 'Feluda the thinker' is not so conspicuously present in the next-generation movies. The new Feluda is more agile, stronger and makes more use of his fists and muscles and of martial arts rather than his magajastra, the brain-weapon. Not that the former Feluda was not adept in these qualities! But he was more portrayed as the wielder of the magajastra, whereas his successor depends more on the physical. Going by the novels, one can always infer that Feluda is powerful as well as intelligent, and is adept in the martial arts, Judo, etc. but Chakrobortty's portrayal of Feluda gives more importance to this facet rather than Feluda the thinker.

Audio Plays of Feluda Stories

Besides Baksa Rahasya, audio plays for the radio were made of two more Feluda stories by different directors. One was Darjeeling Jamjamat (Danger in Darjeeling). It was set in Darjeeling, a beautiful hill-station in West Bengal, and dealt with an attempted patricide, a murder and once again a vile deception.

The other was Royal Bengal Rahasya (The Royal Bengal11 Mystery). This was set in the dense forests of Northern Bengal. It dealt with decoding a clue to a treasure hunt and with plagiarism. The trio was played by some popular radio actors.

BBC Radio made two audio plays in English, The Golden Fortress12 on 10 February, 2007, based on Sonar Kella, and The Mystery of the Elephant God on 11 August, 2007, based on Joi Baba Felunath. The eminent Indian actors Rahul Bose and Anupam Kher voiced Feluda and Jatayu respectively.

Some Interesting Facts

The character Sidhu-jatha comes back time and again in many Feluda stories and movies, but strangely enough, played each time by a different actor. In Sonar Kella, he is played by Harindranath Bannerjee. Then in the audio version of Baksa Rahasya, he is played by Sushil Majumder. In Golokdham Rahasya, he's played by Manoj Mitra. We see him again in the video version of Baksa Rahasya, played by Ajit Bannerjee; once again in Golapi Mukta Rahasya by Dibya Bhattacharya; and in Kailase Kelenkari by Haradhan Bannerjee.

Speaking of Haradhan Bannerjee, he is one actor who has acted in four Feluda movies. He appeared in Sonar Kella as Topshe's father, then in Joi Baba Felunath as Umanath Ghosal; again in Baksa Rahasya as Dinanath Lahiri, Feluda's client — both in the audio and film versions of the story. As previously mentioned, we see him back in the Feluda movie Kailase Kelenkari as Sidhu-jatha.

Another common face is Biplab Chatterjee. He played the role of Bikash Sinha in Joi Baba Felunath, then as Prabir Lahiri in the audio play Baksa Rahasya, and again as Jayanta Mallik in Kailase Kelenkari.

We also see Bimal Chatterjee playing a small role in Sonar Kella as the solicitor Shivratan Mukherjee and then as Ambika Ghosal, Feluda's client, in Joi Baba Felunath. He appears in Sandip Ray's Ghurghutiar Ghatana as Kalikinkar Majumdar, the victim, and then again as Mriganka Bhattacharya, nicknamed Atmaram, the false spiritualist in Gosainpur Sargaram.

We also see Dibya Bhattacharya in different roles. In the film Baksa Rahasya, he plays Naresh Chandra Pakrashi; he's back again as the eccentric Shyamlal Mallik in Gosainpur Sargaram. Then he takes a small role in Jato Kando Kathmandute as Harinath Chakrabortty and finally as Sidhu-jatha in Golapi Mukta Rahasya.

Background Music — the Feluda Theme

Satyajit Ray was a versatile genius. Along with being a great director and a writer, he used to make the illustrations and covers for his books, write his own screenplays, design the posters for his films, and above all was passionate about music. He directed the music in his own films and often those of others too. He created a wonderful Feluda theme music for Sonar Kella. Although we hear different music used in Joi Baba Felunath, one can easily identify the theme here too. Scores from these two films were used in the audio version of Baksa Rahasya.

When Sandip Ray filmed Baksa Rahasya, he used quite a few unused scores by Satyajit Ray for the background music. With the first new-generation big-screen movie, Bombaiyer Bombete, Sandip Ray took up the responsibility of musical director. He created a new score as the Feluda theme, although it was again based in the original Feluda theme music. The background music in all the films has been wonderful.

Picture courtesy of Rishiraj Sahoo, under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0.

1Formerly known as Calcutta.2Also named A Mysterious Case.3The television channel owned by the Indian government.4The Bengal Provinces was a huge state in the eastern part of India during British rule. After independence and the partition of India, Bengal was divided into two parts. The western part went to India and was known as West Bengal. The eastern part went to Pakistan, being known as East Pakistan, but later gained independence, and was renamed first East Bengal and then Bangladesh. West Bengal, however, continues to be known by the same name.5Because this was filmed for television, it would not be the same picture quality as a movie, being created on different equipment. Movie cameras are quite different from television cameras.6A jatra is a type of stage-play where the audience sits at three sides of the stage, and the acting is full of emotions spilling over - a traditional part of Bengali folk culture. Kolkata has a rich jatra culture where eminent actors take part too.7This was the only Feluda story published in the children's magazine Anandamela as a series. All the other stories were published in Sandesh or in Desh.8Also named 'The Mystery of the Purple Stone'.9Nana Saheb was the heir to the Peshwa's throne of Bithur in 1857, and was one of the leaders in India's first war of independence — the Revolt of 1857.10Sidhu-jatha means Uncle Sidhu. The term 'Uncle' is often used for older males, whether related or not, as a term of respect.11This refers to the famous Royal Bengal Tiger.12You can enjoy the BBC play The Golden Fortress at the BBC Programme Archive.

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