'Feluda' is the creation of one of the greatest auteur of 20th century cinema - Satyajit Ray. Somehow people including analysts and movie aficionados tend to pigeonhole him into 'Pather Panchali' ('Song of the Little Road') - one of his seminal works... for the making of which he sold all his possessions. But, Ray was a genius and left behind a rich legacy of work... that went much beyond 'Pather Panchali'. Standing 6'-4" tall, he was a towering figure in the world of cinema... both literally and figuratively.
But chances are that... if you are an Indian but not a Bengali... you may not have heard of 'Feluda'. But you would 'know' Satyanveshi Byomkesh Bakshi - Bengal's contribution to the detective genre, superbly portrayed by actor Rajit Kapur and written/created by the celebrated Sharadendu Bandopadhyay in 1932. Incidentally Ray had directed his only Byomkesh mystery - 'Chidiakhana' ('The Zoo' in 1967) - starring the legendary Uttam Kumar - the matinee idol of Bengal, as Byomkesh. By his own volition it was his weakest work... but fetched Uttam Kumar his Best Actor award and Ray a Golden Lotus at the first ever National Film Awards (in 1967)!
It is generally believed that Byomkesh was Sharadendu's alter ego. There are other fictional detectives/sleuths popular in Bengal: Kiriti Ray, Indranath Rudra, Colonel Niladri Sen aka Colonel, Kakababu, Neil Bannerjee, Narayan Sanyal's Barrister P.K. Basu (from the 'Kanta series' - heavily inspired from the Perry Mason series by Erle Stanley Gardner and a few of Agatha Christie's works) to name a few. The peerless Satyajit Ray's contribution was 'Feluda' - a sleuth for all seasons, sharp, handsome, witty and 6 feet tall. 'Feluda' became a phenomenon. But then, it is difficult to say who is more popular - Feluda or Byomkesh. It's a tie... I guess.
Yours truly was introduced to both as a schoolgirl (including the Byomkesh TV series directed by Basu Chatterjee and the Feluda movies directed by Ray himself) and have been under their spell ever since. Thanks to 'Kolkata Book Fair' I have the entire collection of Feluda and Byomkesh - in Bengali.
Not to worry. The language barrier can no longer prevent you from being a part of Feluda's world. All the Feluda stories that Ray wrote are now available together - in English - in an omnibus edition of 2 volumes, of which this is the first. Feluda stories, though essentially Bengali in character, are universal in nature as he keeps traveling from place to place solving mysteries that involve intrigue, action and adventure and therefore appeals to all kinds of readers and is not limited to the young teen.
Volume I of this omnibus features 16 gripping tales (short stories and novellas) of suspense and mystery arranged in their chronological order of composition. This is the definitive Feluda collection - a treasury that all fans of detective fiction will want to possess. Originally written in Bengali (by Ray), this translation in English has been accomplished by Gopa Majumdar and Chitrita Banerji (no relation to Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, I think).
Between 1965 and 1992, Satyajit Ray wrote a total of 35 Feluda stories, featuring the 27-year-old, sharp and bright-eyed Calcutta based amateur detective Prodosh Chandra Mitra who uses the anglicized name Pradosh C. Mitter, his Watson - his fourteen-year-old cousin Tapesh Ranjan Mitra (Mitter) fondly referred to as "Topshe", and Lalmohan Ganguli aka Lalmohan Babu alias "Jatayu", a comical, bumbling writer of cheap popular thrillers with funny names. "Felu" is the nickname of Pradosh Mitter. The suffix "da" (short for "dada") means elder brother in Bengali. The plots involve murder, intrigue and adventure, narrated in a racy, humorous style. The locales range from Gangtok and Varanasi to Jaisalmer and Ellora, from Kedarnath to Kathmandu, and from Puri to London apart from Feluda's hometown of Calcutta, of course. All of this makes for enormously entertaining fare - and it is no wonder that each Feluda book has been a best seller.
Pradosh C. Mitter is called Feluda in the novels, as the narrator Topshe - something of a Watson to Feluda's Holmes - is his younger cousin. He is called Felubabu by Jatayu (tr: Mr. Felu), is just called Felu by his elder family members, friends and relatives and, more endearingly, Feluchand by Sidhu jyatha.
Though Feluda often teases his young cousin, he is extremely fond of Tapesh and is very protective of him. He lives with Topshe's family at 21, Rajani Sen Road, Kolkata-700029. Although there really is a Rajani Sen Road in Kolkata, if one were to walk along that road, one would find it ends at #26, Rajani Sen Road, and there's no #27. Not unlike 221B, Baker Street. Feluda's father Joy Krishna Mitter was a teacher of Mathematics and Sanskrit in Dhaka Collegiate School, had a worked out physique and was adept in playing football, cricket, swimming and wrestling. He used to take out fox-cubs by inserting his hand in their furrows. He died at an early age, when Feluda was just 9 years old. Since his parents passed away when he was a small child, Topshe's parents brought him up. Feluda's father were three brothers. The eldest was a good Thumri singer, who left the household at the young age of 23 to become an ascetic and never returned. Joy Krishna Mitter was the middle brother. Topshe's father, the youngest, is 25 years younger to the eldest brother.
Feluda smokes only one brand of cigarettes - Charminar. He can easily stay without smoking for 10-12 hours if required. Goes to sleep late, but is an early riser. Wakes up before sunrise and starts his day with yogasana. Never sleeps deeply. He is also a connoisseur of good food, popular movies and books. Is choosy about tea. Prefers tea from Makaibari Tea Estate in Kurseong.
Feluda is into martial arts - judo, karate and is an avid reader. He reads everything - about photography, travelogue, current affairs, the art and science of magic, space travel, geometry, etc. He has a vast knowledge about: architecture, botany, typography, automobile, etimology or history of sounds. He knows the names of all the Ragas and Raginis. Has a good hand in drawing. Can make a sketch of a person after seeing him just once. He is an expert with his .32 Colt revolver yet relies mostly on his 'mogojastro' - his incisive mind, and remains open to anything that can further his knowledge. Ray's interest in puzzles and puns is reflected in his stories; Feluda often has to solve a puzzle to get to the bottom of a case.
Satyajit Ray thought of 'Google' long before 'Google' existed. Google's creators were not yet born when Ray created 'Sidhu jyatha' whose formal name is Shiddeshwar Basu. 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.'
Sidhu jyatha lives in Sardar Sankar Road, Lake Market, Calcutta. He is a bibliophile and has an extensive base of general knowledge, current and historical affairs. He was a close friend of Feluda's father, being neighbours in their ancestral village. Feluda's jyatha (uncle - "jyatha" is the endearing word for father's elder brother in Bengali) is said to have a photographic memory and is a vast source of information and comes in handy when Feluda is in need of some. His vast knowledge comes from his collection of varied kinds of newspaper clippings that he has accumulated over the years. The role was played by Harindranath Chattopadhyay in 'Shonar Kella' ('The Golden Fortress'), Ajit Bannerjee in 'Baksha Rohoshya' ('The Mystery of the Kalka Mail') and by Haradhan Banerjee in 'Kailashe Kelenkari' ('A Killer in Kailash') and 'Gorosthane Sabdhan' ('Caution in the Graveyard'). Harindranath Chattopadhyay was also seen in the Hrishikesh Mukherjee directed classic and Rajesh Khanna starrer 'Bawarchi'.
The word 'potential' is a big favourite in Bengal and Bengalis are big on all the unsung geniuses (heroes or otherwise) who could have made it but didn't. The workaholic Ray too reveals a soft corner for the unsung genius; in the way he wrote Sidhu jyatha (played brilliantly on screen by Harindranath Chattopadhyay). When complimented by Felu ("If you had been a detective, we would have been out of work"), Sidhu jyatha responds: "If I had done a lot of things, a lot of people would have been out of work. So, I don’t do anything. I just sit here and keep the windows of my mind open... "
The Feluda stories involve mysteries/adventures largely set in India, with titles such as 'The Golden Fortress' ('Shonar Kella'/ a novella, 1970), 'The Anubis Mystery' ('Sheyal Debota Rohoshya'/ short story), 'The Curse of the Goddess' ('Chinnomostar Obhishap'/ a novella, 1978), 'The Emperor's Ring' ('Badshahi Angthi'/ a novella, 1966), 'Trouble in Gangtok' ('Gangtok-e Gondogol'/ a novella, 1970), 'The Locked Chest' ('Ghurghutiyar Ghatana'/ short story), etc. The stories are refreshing and yet manage to retain the local/Indian flavour. That Feluda matures from an unknown amateur detective in the first few stories (starting with 'Feluda's Investigation' ['Feludar Goendagiri'/ short story, 1965]) to a serious/professional, successful and reputed private investigator can be seen as the book rolls along. Some of the stories like the 'The Royal Bengal Mystery' ('Royal Bengal Rohoshya'/ a novella, 1974) and 'Caution in the Graveyard' ('Gorosthaney Shabdhan'/ a novella, 1977) are just absolute classics. You race through each story, the plot pulling you into a hypnotic rev, until somewhere the crime fiction and adventure loving epicurean in you, stops to savour the tasty morsels of thrills and adventure on offer. Ah! Bliss!
'Badshahi Angthi'... set in Lucknow is one of the earliest stories (the 2nd to be precise) and one of my favourites. I also like 'Royal Bengal Rahasya' and 'Chhinnomastar Abhishap'. 'Gorosthane Sabdhan' is a great favourite too. I love the Calcutta that Ray had written about in it. It's a different Calcutta, with a completely different feel. The atmosphere is different. The Park Street cemetery was such an intriguing place. But things have changed now... thanks to 'development'.
All Feluda films where Soumitra Chatterjee played the detective character - in 'Shonar Kella' ('The Golden Fortress'/ filmed: 1974) and 'Joi Baba Felunath' ('The Mystery of the Elephant God'/ a novella, 1975/ filmed: 1979) are a treat to watch and re-watch. Though mainly targeted towards children and young adults, both 'Shonar Kella' and 'Joi Baba Felunath' found a large number of loyal followers... cutting across generations.
Ray made the first Feluda film based on his novel 'Shonar Kella' ('The Golden Fortress') in 1974. It was set against the backdrop of Rajasthan, 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.
Next came '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 inimitable Utpal Dutt played the villain Maganlal Meghraj, who returns to appear in two more Feluda stories. Both these films had Soumitra Chatterjee, Siddhartha Chatterjee and Santosh Dutta playing the roles of the trio of Feluda, Topshe and Jatayu.
'Baksho Rohoshya' ('The Mystery of the Kalka Mail') - was presented as a radio play by Satyajit Ray. The story is set in Kolkata, Delhi and Shimla, and deals with a stolen diamond and a priceless unpublished manuscript.
'Sheyal Debota Rohoshya' ('The Anubis Mystery') 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.
'Kailase Kelenkari' ('A Killer in Kailash') is an exciting thriller, starting in Kolkata, then moving 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. Even the film (directed by Sandip Ray) 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.
But I hope to see 'Badshahi Angthi' on screen someday. Actor Sabyasachi Chakraborty has been playing Feluda for 15 years now, under the directorial baton of Satyajit Ray's able son Sandip Ray. These are: 'Baksha Rohoshya', 'Bombaiyer Bombete', 'Kailashe Kelenkari', 'Tintorettor Jishu' and 'Gorosthaney Shabdhan'. But he is ageing... which means Sandip Ray will have to scout for a younger Feluda... if he were to direct 'Badshahi Angthi'. And that will be one hell of a job. Who do you think could take up the mantle next? Methinks... Milind Soman would have fit in perfectly... but not sure about his acting skills. Priyanshu Chatterjee (of 'Tum Bin' fame) maybe... provided he lost some weight and underwent a makeover. Perhaps even a newcomer like Abir Chatterjee... the latest Byomkesh Bakshi to hit the screens. What say?
This is a must-have book. If you're reading this, do yourself a favour and buy the book!
Details of the book: The Complete Adventures of Feluda (Vol I)/ Author: Satyajit Ray/ Paperback/ pp: 785 pages/ Price: Rs. 450 (Rs. 338 @ Flipkart)/ Publisher: Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd./ Publishing date: 11/30/2004/ Language: English/ ISBN: 0143032771/ ISBN-13: 978-0143032779.
Photograph: Pic. courtesy: Link.