Bengali’s iconic sleuth Feluda is back on the silver screen. This time it is the suave and persuasive Indraneil Sengupta directed by Sandip Ray in Hatyapuri. Surely not a classic, the film has some memorable cinematic moments. Sandip Ray never takes his audience for a ride.
Indraneil plays his character well. Yet it must be remembered he is an actor with limited talents. His screen presence does not match those of Uttam Kumar, Soumitra Chatterjee or Subhendu Chatterjee. When Soumitra Chatterjee first appeared as Feluda in Sonar Kella and Joy Baba Felunath, he was Feluda in the true sense of the term.
Feluda is a private investigator who solves criminal cases with intelligence, grit and objectivity. He certainly engages in combat but not like MI6, James Bond 007. Feluda is not licensed to kill, there are no pretty women around him and he does not occasionally drink martini.
The main difference between Satyajit Ray’s detective and Ian Fleming’s spy is that Feluda is not larger than life. He never sets out to accomplish impossible missions. In this aspect he is more like Sherlock Holmes or Poi rot as penned by Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie. His investigative eyes, backed by a rare élan help him to achieve his goals. Feluda is the quintessential Bengali middle class urbanite who is well read, inspires his cousin Topse, but never appears a super human being.
Feluda besides acting as a mentor to Topse, his cousin also delves into humorous arguments with his author associate, Jatayu. It is humour with wit and intellect. His true inspiration for knowledge is Sidhu Jetha, who is an encyclopedia of information.
Many viewers did not like Dr. Watson and Captain Hastings being addressed as tail-like followers to Holmes and Poirot in the words of veteran actor Bimal Chatterjee in Joy Baba Felunath. Such a dialogue appeared out of context in a Satyajit Ray film. Topse compared to Dr. Watson or Captain Hastings is much younger, inexperienced yet energetic and ready to learn. The European characters portrayed by Basil Rathbone and David Suchet belong to a more advanced society than Feluda lives.
Soumitra Chatterjee still remains the iconic Feluda in viewer’s minds. It is at par with Byomkesh Bakshi in Chiriakhana performed to the hilt by Uttam Kumar, directed by Satyajit Ray. When in the late 90s, Sabyasachi Chakraborty replaced Soumitra Chatterjee as Feluda, he did justice to his character. Directed well by Sandip Ray, Sabyasachi however, could not match the natural skill of Soumitra Chatterjee.
The one film wonder, Abir Chatterjee in Badsahi Angti could not come anywhere near Sabyasachi Chakraborty. Intelligently, Sandip Ray never repeated him as Abir Chatterjee was already branded as Byomkesh Bakshi in a number of movies. In the Hindi version of Feluda, Shashi Kapoor was a miscast in the television serial.
It now remains to see to what extent Indraneil Sengupta can win over spectators and critics as Feluda. Forty years ago, in an interview to India Today, Satyajit Ray mourned the lack of talent in Bengali cinema. He genuinely felt actors in Mumbai were more professional and uninhibited. His comments hold good even today. A Prasenjit, Dev or Koyel Muulick are no match to an Amitabh Bachhan, Naseeruddin Shah or a Vidya Balan. Bengali films in the past few years are falling flat on their faces, unable to create any impact. No genuine cine goer is ready to accept present Bengali actors like Uttam Kumar, Soumitra Chatterjee or Sabitri Chatterjee.
Sandip Ray now faces a herculean task of making Feluda acceptable to classes and masses. A thinking filmmaker like him should avoid taking the risk of directing Feluda films without the right cast. After all Feluda is a darling to the average Bengali who never likes to see him doing wrong.