Monday, April 11, 2011

Feluda: Gorosthane Sabdhan!

Author's note: To read 'The Complete Adventures of Feluda (Vol I) by Satyajit Ray' please click here.

A disturbed grave in a centuries-old cemetery, a ciphered message and a mysterious 'repeater'... On a visit to the Park Street cemetery (founded in 1767) in Calcutta, Feluda and his friends chance upon an old grave that has been dug into. Slight clues lead them into the heart of a mystery that is both complex and fascinating. When the jigsaw that involves Marquis Godwin's dilapidated flat in a scary and gloomy old building on Ripon Street, a séance, a singer in a restaurant, a ruthless rich collector and a midnight vigil at the graveyard is put together, what emerges is one of the most intriguing mysteries Feluda has ever been faced with.

This is also the latest Feluda film to hit the marquee, and walks you through some glorious history of Calcutta (including showcasing the city's oldest photographic studio - Bourne & Shepherd, Gorosthan [the Park Street cemetery that has around 2000 graves but has not had a single burial for many years], the mausoleum of Job Charnock, traditionally regarded as the founder of the city of Calcutta, the tombs of Henry Louis Vivian Derozio, the fiery Anglo-Indian teacher, poet, a radical thinker and freedom fighter who lived a rather short but a memorable life and played a major role in ushering modern ideology among the young generation of Calcutta; William Jones, founder of the Asiatic Society, John Hyde, a judge famous for his papers and Rose Aylmer who inspired the poem of the same name by Walter Savage Landor and other heritage venues of Calcutta - not Kolkata mind you). It also introduces you to the 'Perigal Repeater'.

Sabyasachi Chakraborty once again essays the role of Feluda admirably - sophisticated, intelligent, sharp and mildly yet fashionably arrogant... in his own way. Bibhu Bhattacharya is back as Lalmohanbabu aka Jatayu. While chocolate-faced actor Saheb Bhattacharjee - son of famous footballer Subrata Bhattacharjee who is now a well-known football coach - is Topshe (previously played by Siddhartha Chatterjee, Saswata Chatterjee and Parambrata Chatterjee). Yes, all three Topshes were Chatterjees until Saheb arrived! While another Feluda series fixture veteran actor Haradhan Bandopadhyay is seen as 'Sidhu Jyatha'. The first Topshe who partnered Soumitra Chatterjee was Siddhartha Chatterjee - now a financial analyst in his own right. The next Topshe were Saswata Chatterjee and Parambrato Chatterjee. When Parambrato grew out of the character, director Sandip Ray's choice was the young and fresh-faced Shaheb Bhattacharjee... and he has done a great job.

The sparkling cameos performed by some of the best veteran actors boost up the ratings of the acting cast... with top marks going to Tinnu Anand as Godwin's gone-to-seed great-great-great grandson Marquis Godwin who, like his ancestor, has gambled away everything but a beautiful ivory casket that holds the secret to Thomas Godwin's grave. Pradip Mukherjee as Naren Biswas is subtle in his understatement of an important role, underwritten by feelings of failure and guilt. Subhashish Mukherjee as Girin Biswas, his younger brother, has a layered role and performs it to perfection. This actor who is usually seen in comic roles has packed an impressive performance that underlines his versatility and indicates his range as an actor. Dhritiman Chatterjee as Mahadeb Choudhury is theatrical and flamboyant but that is just what the character demands - showy, conceited, slighting of others and cold.

Satyajit Ray wrote this Feluda story in 1977. Sandip has relocated it by flashing it forward to 2010 and making the slightly necessary changes to the script... to fit it into the present time frame. The city has completely changed in the last 40 odd years. So a large number of descriptions from the book had to be suitably changed in the film. Thus, Blue Fox, the landmark restaurant, had to be replaced with another equally old restaurant on Park Street and the signature Ambassadors and Fiats on the city's streets have been replaced with modern cars.

The camera wanders around Kolkata. One discovers that the city of Kolkata with warts and all has evolved into a significant character in the film. Despite the time leap from story to film, the flavour of an old Kolkata comes back like an old gramophone record forgotten in some old shelf. But this Calcutta-Kolkata incorporates a sophisticated hospital, modern gizmos, a band playing at Trincas the old restaurant on Park Street that is still around, an Internet café Feluda steps into to Google-search some info, Seagull Bookstore in the southern parts of Kolkata, lunch hogged in a hurry at Chung Wah, a once-famous Chinese restaurant in central Calcutta, ending along the banks at Raichak, a new addition, and so on. All this is wonderfully portrayed with bytes of information flowing in naturally through Feluda's encyclopedic knowledge. The magic cinematography is never in a hurry to reach a destination before it needs to... just as the editing decides to call it quits when it should.

'Gorosthaney Shabdhan!' has an extremely impressive and original opening on the original Park Street graveyard. The credits are engraved on the gravestones, the camera panning slowly to catch them in circles. The sound design is fantastic in all the night scenes in the graveyard - eerie sounds of bats, dogs, owls and frogs dotting the silence, or, muffled sounds of someone being pulled and hit, or, the planchette table tapping above that shakes Marquis Godwin's ceiling and last but never the least, all the 250 clocks chiming together on the dot of six when Feluda, Topshe and Lalmohan Babu come to meet Mahadeb Choudhury in his opulent apartment (with its red-carpeted staircase) for the first time. Sandip Ray's Gorosthane Sabdhan! informs, educates and entertains without dragging its feet over its almost lyrical closure. It blends some thrills, a bit of suspense and doses of action and adventure to take the audience on an entertaining trip through the city of Kolkata.

Thanks are due to Sandip Ray for bringing this magnificent story to life. Read the story - in Bengali or English and grab the DVD.

The film has been a huge success prompting the director - Sandip Ray - to announce plans to work on two more Feluda films in the coming years, namely, 'The Royal Bengal Rahashya' ('The Royal Bengal Mystery') and 'Joto Kando Kathmandutey' ('The Criminals of Kathmandu'/ a novella, 1980). The days of suspense will be back soon.

When Satyajit Ray wrote Gorosthane Shabdhan! in 1977, the process of renaming streets and locations in Calcutta had already started. Of course, this reached a frenzied pace in recent years with the renaming of the city itself to Kolkata and the prime location of the novel, Park Street, to Mother Teresa Sarani. Nonetheless, in the story we find signs that change had already started. Dalhousie Square had become B.B.D. Bag in honour of the revolutionaries Binoy, Badal, and Dinesh. Topshe even had difficulty remembering that Ochterlony Monument had been renamed to Shaheed Minar! (Most people born in my generation have no clue who David Ochterlony was and what he did to deserve a monument).

Old timers used to (and still do) refer to places in Calcutta (or Kolkata, if you prefer) by their original names. They would always say Dalhousie Square, "Monument", Theatre Road, Camac Street, Harrison Street, and Circular Road. Many of these names are still present in Gorosthane Shabdhan! but others are gone. However, Chowringhee and Strand Road have managed to make it this far and are still quite popular. In any case, I will not be surprised if Esplanade is also "Indianised" soon... since that is the best and the most potent solution to all infrastructure related problems! What?

Feluda is said to be a cross between Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes, Hergé's Tintin and George Lucas' Indiana Jones... and the films have been popular too. The global popularity of the sleuth is also enviable, as Feluda stories have been published in full in English and in part in many other major international languages (French and Spanish included). The charm of Ray's Feluda stories lie, among other things, in their skillful mix of mystery and humour. It is good that his works are being translated into other languages - especially English. It'll help bring on a larger readership. I think they have been translated into Marathi and Hindi too.

The original Feluda - Soumitra Chatterjee - was ageing while the mid-1980s saw the demise of the hugely talented Santosh Dutta (the original Jatayu) due to cancer. The latter prompted Ray to decide never to film a Feluda story again, although he went on writing them at a phenomenal rate till the end of his days.

Ray felt Santosh Dutta was irreplaceable as Jatayu. However, Ray Jr. looked at it differently... and felt one has to move on and that the show must go on.

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 - and 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 the iconic Sherlock Holmes has been played by so many actors, and so has been James Bond aka Agent 007, so why not Feluda? Just because Satyajit Ray, Santosh Dutta and Utpal Dutt (Maganlal Meghraj) were no more, and Soumitra could no longer play Feluda, it was not justified to archive the super-sleuth Feluda forever.

Thus, to a mixed response, Sandip Ray chose three new actors: Sabyasachi Chakraborty as Feluda, Saswata Chatterjee as Topshe and veteran actor and comedian Robi Ghosh as Jatayu. Although Saswata was a new face, Sabyasachi 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. In one of the 5 films from the "Feluda 30" series directed by Sandip - to commemorate 30 years of Feluda - was a story 'Ambar Sen Antardhan Rahasya' ('The Mysterious Disappearance of Ambar Sen'). The story was set in Kolkata - 'the City of Joy'. It dealt with the 'kidnapping' of Ambar Sen and a theft. Feluda fans were in for a surprise in the very first scene itself. None other than Soumitra Chatterjee, the original Feluda, played Feluda's client, Ambar Sen.

The first film (directed by Sandip for the television series) was 'Baksha Rohoshya' ('The Mystery of the Kalka Mail' aka 'A Mysterious Case'/ filmed: 1996), which had already been 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.

The film was supposed to be televised on 2 May, Satyajit Ray's birthday, but red tape led to delays, and Sandip went for a showing of the television version in a cinema in Kolkata. The Feluda magic pulled in the crowd. Although Robi Ghosh was a veteran and a great 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.

Ray is said to have not been fond of the only Byomkesh mystery he ever directed - 'Chidiyakhana' ('The Zoo'/ 1967); he derided it as being a whodunnit, which in his opinion, never was a good idea for films. The denouement was invariably tedious, and the whole concept of finding out who did it tended to become boring.

Satyajit Ray had decided, and Sandip Ray agreed, that a big-screen film could not be made in a 'whodunnit' format, as it reduces the chances of repeat view while some spoilsport can kill the story/film and the thrills by disclosing the identity of the criminal. On the other hand, it is a good idea to follow the 'whodunnit' format on television, as there is less chance of repeat viewing. As we see in 'Sonar Kella' ('The Golden Fortress'/ a novella, 1970/ filmed: 1974) and 'Joi Baba Felunath' ('The Mystery of the Elephant God'/ a novella, 1975/ filmed: 1979), the thriller format had been adopted in filming, although 'Sonar Kella' was written in a 'whodunnit' format like other Feluda stories. However, for all the other films, which were made for the TV, the 'whodunnit' format was retained.

With 'Baksho Rohoshya' perhaps Sandip Ray wanted to experiment with the thriller format on TV before going for the big screen... and he met with reasonable success too.

The Feluda stories continue to waft their magic fragrance through the books/novels and films - over 45 years after they were first written - and literally whet our appetite, the way the bitter starter is meant to do in Bengal. Feluda was and remains fatafati!

The Official trailer of Gorosthane Sabdhan! HERE.

Photograph: Poster of the film 'Gorosthaney Shabdhan!' aka 'Beware in the Graveyard!' Pic. courtesy: Link.


  1. Though I have always been fascinated by feluda.. I have never read Feluda or seen any movie. Will make it a point to read him next

  2. Shubho nabo barsho, to you and your family, Roshmi! God bless you and your family!

  3. @ Tang: You haven't read Feluda?? Hotfoot it to the nearest bookstore Tang. Pronto!

    And catch the films on DVD if you can.

  4. @ Sandhya: Thank you Sandhyaji. Shubho Nono Borsho to you and your family too :)

  5. where did u watch it? did it release in Bangalore?

  6. @ Reema: Well, apparently it did release in B'lore @ some mall, but I had no clue which one :(

    Didn't find the VCD/DVD either.

    Finally managed to watch it on the net :)