The newest Feluda film, Royal Bengal Rahasya, is one of Sandip Ray’s better films. But it is still mediocre
Sherlock Holmes is an Internet phenomenon — thanks to a blog Dr John Watson, a British army doctor back from Afgha-
nistan, writes on his adventures with
Holmes plays the violin, can differ-
entiate between 243 kinds of cigarette
ash, is addicted to text messaging on
his cell 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 Cumber-
batch as the manic mastersleuth and
Martin Freeman as his lackey.
And I’m sure you’ll agree that it is
miles ahead of the movie series helm-
ed 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 socio-
pathic private detective from early
20th century London.
To be fair, Game Of Shadows was
okay, maybe even resembling Sherlock
Holmes. But the BBC series stands
out, with its wicked mix of 21st centu-
ry 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 cam-
era phone that Holmes had to crack.
The Hounds of Baskerville episode
was pretty scary, albeit a bit far-
fetched, and involved biological war-
fare. And millions across the world —
it is aired on PBS in the United States
— are falling over themselves dis-
cussing possible explanations for the
season finale, Reichenbach Fall, in
which Holmes and his arch-enemy Jim
Writers Steven Moffat and Mark
Gattis — who also plays Holmes’s older brother Mycroft, a
sort of super spy in the series — cheekily left the plot hang-
ing for Season 3, due next year!
Compare all that buzzing excitement to the screen fate of
Satyajit Ray’s inspired, Indianized 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 (1974) and Joy Baba Felunath
Like the books, the films are timeless wonders, featuring
Ray’s warhorse Soumitra Chatterjee as Feluda 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.
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.
The BBC’s latest television
The contrast in the fates of Arthur Conan Doyle’s and Satyajit Ray’s super
sleuths is a study in despair, says Sumit Bhattacharya
The newest Feluda film in theaters for three 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 audiovisual
feasts. The musical theme he wrote (he was an avid organ
player and fan of Bach) for the series that was so catchy that
even now the theme from a Bollywood film like Paa seems
inspired by it.
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 arrives
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
humor that sparkled through almost every line and every
frame Satyajit Ray created. This is a fossilized 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 theater
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
Sorry to say, Sandip Ray has consistently got it wrong —
since the day he tried to make a Hindi television 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. Last week,
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 about 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
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 think I will go and bang my head against
a wall. ;