Let me begin by stating that for a generation of Bengalis, Feluda is not just a detective or the first childhood hero. Feluda is a much larger emotion. He is you growing up through your childhood, Topshe is you making Feluda an integral part of that childhood. And through the world of Feluda, somehow the genius who created this icon became far more accessible to you even during your growing up years, when some of his other work was more complex and aspirational for the young mind. For many like me, Feluda (who in a way impersonated the maker himself) was our first introduction to the magical world of Satyajit Ray.
Through the series of short and long adventure tales that Satyajit Ray wrote around Feluda, he just did not just create the most popular icon of bengali literature accessible across age groups, but also gradually shaped the thinking of those avid readers. With an extremely modern, colloquial and lucid approach, the well researched travelogue or the milieu detailing of these stories and their super rich illustrations made them far more interesting, rich in knowledge, and broader in perspective. Ray took it to the next level when he decided to make two of his most popular films based on two Feluda books. Such was the impact of his films that he made the golden fort of Jaisalmer one of the most popular tourist destinations overnight, and the craze of Shonar Kella is still unmatched. Same goes for Jai Baba Felunath, it is a classic, and to this date, almost all Ray and Feluda fans can repeat any dialogues from these films at any given time, and simply rejoice the feeling with a smile. It was obvious that this legacy was going to be carried forward by Sandip Ray as well, as he went on to direct quite a few other films on this icon, albeit with a different cast; and even those films have remained fairly popular over years, primarily based on the foundational fan following that the Feluda universe still has.
Sagnik Chatterjee, in his film Feluda : 50 Years of RAY’s Detective, pays his rich tribute to Ray and his sleuth, and tracks the entire journey of Feluda’s evolution – from his creation as a short story for the children’s magazine Sandesh back five decades back, to it becoming an icon and an annual phenomenon that a generation of readers would look forward to, to all the films that followed, the comic books, the plays, the audio books, the merchandise and what not. Feluda as a franchise became a rage much before the concept of a franchise was even established in the real sense for the world of Bengali entertainment.
Chatterjee constructs his narrative not only through the interviews of all the artists who became part of the Feluda universe right from Soumitro Chattopadhyay to Mohan Agashe to Sabyasachi Chakaborty to Saswata Chattopadhyay to Dhritiman Chatterjee to Paran Bandopadhyay to Abir Chatterjee to many others and of course Sandip Ray, but he also stitches in reminiscences from publishers, journalists, critics, other filmmakers, fans across the horizon (age group and geography), and audio footage from the master himself, thereby weaving in a much needed holistic approach of storytelling.
It is a highly nostalgic ride down memory lane, and the cinematic touch to go back to Jaisalmer or Benaras to track back memories of the iconic films directed by Ray works wonderfully. Also particularly impressive are the portions that focus on the evolution of illustrations in the Feluda books to explore the relatively lesser discussed side of Ray’s genius. The super imposition of some of those illustrations in an animated format with the real locations of those stories works well to satiate the action loving Feluda fans and make the storytelling more interesting, and Mir Ali does a great job as the anchor narrator of a docu feature yet again (reminded me of his effective anchoring of the Rituparno Ghosh documentary by Sangeeta Dutta, watched earlier this year).
The most enjoyable parts of Chatterjee’s films are of course the sections that zoom in to the memories of making the two Feluda films that Ray directed himself. The audience is heard repeating all the iconic lines of Feluda or Jatayu or Maganlal Meghraj or Mandar Bose, as the scene snippets play along on the screen along with memoirs associated with them. They also marvel at the genius that Santosh Dutta or Utpal Dutt were, and how gravely they are missed today. It was also a good idea to use these sections at the two ends of the film to build the initial intrigue, and finish it off on a high note. On the other end, I felt too much time was invested to cover the newer Feluda films under the Sandip – Sabyasachi arm, much of it felt too long and somewhat lack luster just like those films. The short changed coverage of Abir Chatterjee and the conspicuous absence of Parambrata Chattopadhyay was also duely noted. And yes, way too much time was spent on covering Feluda in London, with an attempt of a long drawn comparison between the two iconic sleuths from Kolkata and London. Frankly that came across as the most boring section of the film, and in spite of it providing Chatterjee with a window of opportunity to shoot London in detail, the thinking behind such extended coverage did not come across as justified. A tighter edit on some of these portions could have easily saved about 15-20 minutes of reel time and would have made the film far more crisp and sharp. Afterall, a film on Feluda cannot afford to compromise on these attributes.
But inspite of some of these gripes, this nostalgic film on our iconic hero and his universe definitely deserves a good watch. When the topic itself is so close to heart, the overall cinematic excellence of the film doesn’t need to be its most relevant success. Feluda : 50 Years of RAY’s Detective aims at taking you down the memory lane for you to revisit your childhood and your favourite memories with a satisfying smile on the face. And Sagnik Chatterjee’s film definitely succeeds with that!
Little joys of life – what’s not to like!
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