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Sandip Ray’s Felu-da Fails – Yet Again!

By Amitava Nag • Published on January 2, 2009

Tintorettor JishuThe Niyogis’ stay in their palatial residence in Baikuntha-pur in the outskirts of Kolkata. They are affluent with quite a classical touch – the elder Niyogi having a penchant for Gawhar Jaan whereas the younger member of the family taking interest in vintage cars. However, none of them seem to be aware of a painting of Jesus by one of the greatest painters of the Venetian school, Tintoretto which was in the family’s possession. One of the family members who left the house long back comes back in disguise and steals it and soon it becomes evident that international buyers are in a hunt for the painting which is ‘‹“price-less’. The climax is set in Hong-Kong and Felu-da chases the criminals and finally nabs them down to restore the famous painting which eventually heads for a museum in France.

š š š š š š Now, we need to stop since non-Bengali readers are thinking what it is all about. The above story-line is from the film Tintorettor Jishu by Sandip Ray, based on a mystery novel with the same name by his illustrious father Satyajit Ray. But who is Felu-da? Prodosh Mitter aka Felu-da is a Bengali sleuth who has a very special place in the hearts of most Bengalis mainly because of his Holmes-ian techniques in unraveling the mysteries where he used his brains more than his muscles. He is ably supported by his cousin Topshe and a potboiler thriller writer Lalmohan Ganguly aka Jatayu who is also the comic relief. There were two film masterpieces based on Felu stories by Ray senior himself which both are quite popular till this date and any new Felu story (Sandip Ray himself mad a couple before this one) draws an unavoidable comparison with its predecessors. With the legendary Soumitra Chatterjee playing Felu to perfection in those two films in the ‘‹“70s, the new-age Felu (a macho Sabyasachi Chakraborty) has to fight against time by tying to be contemporary, yet hold on to the traditional Bengali intelligentsia which is synonymous with his larger-than-life image.

š š š š š š The film opens in Sandip’s trademark style: A pet golden retriever is murdered and his care-taker brutally wounded before the opening credits start and the stage is set for a mystery thriller to unfold. The original story was a ‘‹“whodunit’ which neither Ray senior nor Sandip found suitable for mystery thriller films. That part is still debatable, but even if we take that as a premise, in that case also the suspense buildup to the actual crime needs to be taut and keeping the viewers guessing. For example in Satyajit Ray’s Sonar Kella (The Golden Fortress) , it was soon evident who the miscreants are, but still there were atleast a couple of unsolved issues in the mysterious ‘‹“naughty man’ according to Mukul, the young central character as well as a person covered up in Rajasthani dress who was found present in all places where Felu-da went. And to top it all, in the final sequence only we came to know that there were no hidden jewels anywhere in the fort in Jaishalmeer – the Golden fortress. Whereas Sonar Kella scores as a travelogue with the mise-en-scene of Kolkata streets, Rajasthan desert, camel ride and finally the grandeur of the forts, Ray senior’s second and ultimate Felu film Jai Baba Felunath (The Elephant God) traversed the serpentine lanes of Benares. The camera followed the dingy shady lanes creating an aura of tension almost always, compounded by one murder during the night. Here again we always knew that the main culprit was Maganlal Meghraj, the businessman but we were kept in dark as to who all were involved in the stealing of the expensive statue. And in putting the final words as ‘‹“Sing’ in the mouth of the murdered man, Ray played a trick in forcing us to get focused on one Bikas Sinha (pronounced as ‘‹“Sing-hoe’ in Bengali) who was an inhabitant of the house where the crime happened. Only in the end that we came to know that by ‘‹“Sing’ the murdered person probably referred to the mouth of the lion (in Bengali ‘‹“Lion’ is called ‘‹“singha’) in the Goddess Durga deity where he found the statue and handed over to Bikas. However, still, the very final sequence seemed contrived and too abruptly hackneyed for an otherwise engrossing film.

š š š š š š The reason for picking the two previous Satyajit films in comparison is simply because, in Sandip’s latest film also he treaded similar paths in putting for us who all are the possible suspects. But probably he put forwarded a lot more than he should since there was no suspense in the end – not only because we already knew who it was, but more so because nothing came as a surprise in a film where there were possibilities of few parallel subplots as well. And if you compare Satyajit’s films you will understand how music plays an important part in heightening the tension, for example in Sonar Kella when Felu-da discovered that the spellings of the name of Dr. Hemanga Hazra is different in his card which Felu-da got from his client and in the Circuit House Registrar, immediately setting out for a chase. In this film also, there was a similar case when Felu-da discovered in a Hindi film magazine the picture of the youngest son in the Niyogi family who actually was involved in stealing the picture. However the music score of this particular sequence seems insipid in a film which can otherwise boast of a commendable and precise soundscape. It seems very absurd that this youngest son never came home for many years and from the photo in the magazine it seemed, he didn’t take sufficient make-up as well. In this age where information availability is no more a luxury, it seems little too simple and also his sudden disappearance from the reel time doesn’t add suspense to that plot either. Also, Felu-da’s suspicion on the Art researcher who finally turned out to be the grandson of the artist Niyogi who possessed the precious painting seemed very commonplace. It’s an interesting trick when in a thriller we get to see something which we don’t realize until quite the climax when it shines as an important connection, more like Hitchcockian MacGaffin. Sadly, there were no such brilliances in Felu-da’s detection graph which is quite dismal to say the least.

š š š š š š In setting up the final climax in Hong Kong, Sandip was smart in his selection of the story (story itself had the climax in Hong Kong). However as mentioned in the two Satyajit Ray movies which both can, in different degrees though, be qualified as travelogues, there are a lot that the viewer imbibes, his interest for the facets of life in these parts of the world increases only. Sandip was successful to an extent to create similar interest in his previous film Kailashe Kelenkari where he had meticulously captured the grandeur of the Kailash temple of Ellora – his camera caressing the archeological brilliance of the rock cut architecture of the Rashtrakuta dynasty. However, in this film, as viewers we never had the true feel of Hong Kong – there was a car chase final countdown which could have happened anywhere in the world, same applies for the night scene when the trio was held captive. The only meager exposure to Hong Kong was in the market place and in the very final shot with Bruce Lee’s epic statue that very interestingly symbolizes muscles over brains — an indication of Felu-da’s changing persona in the heat of changing times? Maybe, maybe not but this film definitely had more fighting scenes than any other Felu films before which always, like the stories they were based upon, believed in not being gruesome – the violence is indicated but not physically shown in most cases. The editing deserves special mention in the juxtaposition of jump cuts, panning shots, top-angle shots and helped to build the close-action suspense whatever little the film achieved.

As per Business Standard, (1/1/2009) the film grossed neck to neck with Shahrukh Khan starrer Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi in the first week of release as far as viewer-ship in Kolkata is concerned. For a regional film that seems quite an achievement considering the growing apathy for Bangla films amongst Kolkatans. This apart, notwithstanding our love for this ageless sleuth, I am afraid, there is nothing much that I can take back from this Sandip Ray film.

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One Response to “Sandip Ray’s Felu-da Fails – Yet Again!”

  1. Trinanjan says:

    Dear Amitavo,
    We have definitely the reason for regretting the exit of our classical Felu-da. This is an irraparable loss indeed for all of US. It’s perhaps a greater loss, I suppose, for the junior Ray and also a hard stuggle for getting out of something so strongly entrenched in his own self; his father and father’s creation. In any case, as a critic, we have to be a little more lenient and learn to see things empathetically – being into the time that determines the encounter between a work and its receptions. To me, your last paragraph is the most important. how do you justify this huge reception of the ‘renewed ‘Felu? Only Business?
    Waiting for further deliberations from you over this aspect. Please do it! :smile:

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