27 April 2008

Satyajit Ray was a great film director nationally and internationally. He is still a known name to the Bengali children for another reason. Nobody before him in Bengal was as successful a writer for children as Satyajit Ray. He had interests in various matters apart from his creative talent in film making. I will not discuss about his other interests except his deep interest in writing for children. He inherited this taste for writing from his grandfather and his father-Sukumar Ray. Sukumar Ray is famous for his nonsense poems and even after three generations Sukumar Ray is still the only one in this category. He is unique and unparallel in Bengali literature, if not Indian literature as a whole. Satyajit Ray considerably added reputation to his renowned literary family. Ray wrote profusedly for children of Bengal. He wrote mainly on three following categories:

1. 1.Detective story 2. Short story 3. Science fiction

These are the main three areas that are very popular amongst the children of Bengal. He wrote on other matters in English and Bengali but I like to restrict my writing on his ‘Feluda’ episodes. But before that I must tell a little about this young detective. The official name of Feluda is Pradosh C. Mitter. Felu is his nick name but to Topse (Tapesh) –who is a cousin –he is Feluda. In Bengali da -when it’s suffixed with a name he is regarded as elder brother. Feluda lives with his uncle-Topse’s father in Calcutta. Topse is an adolescent boy very fond of Feluda and regarded him as his hero. In feluda episodes we find in Topse a Watson like assistant cum companion.

But let me watch Feluda and his creator-Ray. Feluda-is his later twenties now, very smart young man. He is extremely meticulous in his watching –whatever it may be-and perhaps follows Holmes as his Guru in this matter. He has many characteristics similar to Holmes. But in spite of the similarities he is distinctively a different person. For age, cultural difference, familial bond Feluda must have to be a different man. Moreover Ray wrote his Feluda stories mainly for children of Bengal. Holmes-stories are basically written with adult psychology and situations which can not be themes for children. Holmes is a queer and unsocial man. Holmes is addicted to cocaine and a confirmed bachelor and a homeless (not belonging to any family) person. Holmes is extremely intelligent but he likes to restrict his interest in such matters which he thinks necessary for his job as a detective. So, at times Holmes proves to be surprisingly an uneducated person when expressing his ignorance on planetary movements. On the contrary, Feluda is a well-informed man in matters of many things simply for the interest og the things themselves than any generally educated person. Feluda is a smoker. He smokes a cheap but strong brand of unfiltered cigarette- Charminar. Perhaps Ray told much about Feluda by naming this brand. It is the brand of intellectuals of Calcutta and especially of those who are mainly tough and cerebral type. Feluda is honest and very social. He is careful about his health and its strength and agility. So in the morning he has his regular yoga exercise. Unlike the general Bengalis Feluda speaks English perfectly like an English man. Externally, Feluda loves western etiquettes. But Feluda is not anglicized. He is neither a quintessentially Bengali in his manners, behaviors and interests. But he is inclined to be an aristocrat modern Bengali. In short Feluda is updated-modern and international Bengali who would rather be impetuous to study the dialects of different languages than to be inclined to write poetry.

But perhaps I am missing the points by miles for the matter I have thought of writing here. Feluda, as I have said, has many qualities but contrary to the general Bengali –he is not emotional, sentimental, romantic and soft in his inner nature and external demeanour. In his stories he appears to be tough and dependable as we see him through Topse. Feluda has all the qualities of a successful detective.

Now let me see Soumitra Chatterjee who played the role of Feluda in all those Feluda-films –directed by no other person than the creator of Feluda-Satyajit Ray. Ray like all the first graded film directors had the quality of selecting the right persons for the roles of his film characters. No film director in India before him and after him till date had such brilliant eyes to choose the exact person for his film. He was a perfectionist. In his Pather Panchali –I wonder if any actor or actress can be replaceable! All seem to have been born as the characters of Pather Panchali and they can not have other identities than we find them in the film. It’s true of all his films-even of those films whose stories were of his writings. But pardon me, my readers, if I tell that his choice for Soumitra Chatterjee for the role of Feluda was not proper. No doubt –Soumitra was then a great actor and in every Ray-film he equaled just the person he was chosen for. We must remember here that it was Ray who brought Soumitra in films. I have found that Santosh Datta was never as excellent in other films by other directors as Lalmohan Ganguly in Feluda films. It was because of Ray. Ray had the capability to pick up the right persons for his characters and had also the talent to mould them to fit to the characters they were chosen for.

So when Ray himself picked up Soumitra for the role of his own popular detective character-Feluda-it was, by all that was said above, definitely the right thing he did. But I can never accept Soumitra wearing the garb of Feluda. It must be added here that I am an admirer of Soumitra as a film actor. He was extraordinary in Apur Sansar. Then?

Basically-Soumitra is a quintessentially a Bengali. His demeanour gives an impression that he is soft, romantic, shy, a lover of poetry and belongs very much to family. He is very handsome –but in a Bengali way. Actually, Soumitra is just what he looks. Whenever Soumitra wore beard and moustache in some films –he was able to hide his so called ‘not so smart’ countenance. It is evident from his roles in Jhinder Bandi, Abhjan etc. Feluda and Soumitra in their basic personalities are completely different. they belong to different genre and Soumitra could never be able to hide his nature as Feluda. Soumitra acted just the way it should be desired to do justice to Feluda. But he was helpless with the tone of his voice and his smiling face that can not fit to Feluda.

It can never be an issue to write on, at least for me –if it were not that perfectionist Ray choosing Soumitra for a character –he himself created with extreme care and love. Ray created Feluda in his own image. Ray endowed Feluda with his likes and dislikes, his preferences, his taste for some foods/snacks, his love for cigarette, his keen interests in peculiar and queer matters and above all his western demeanour. Ray also was never an anglicized Bengali. He was like Feluda, a modern, international but with an aritrocratic Bengali core within him. On the other hand the very appearence of Soumitra is representative of a Bengali -who is left in politics, a poet, romantic, shy and inclined to cultural activities. Ray might have, I am not sure, the same characteristic dispositions of Soumitra; but the gait and countenance of Ray was just the opposite of Soumitra. It was Ray and only Ray who could create his detective

Perhaps none in Bengal will come to my support in this matter. The most invincible logic against me can easily be derived from Ray’s own judgment.

In that case I may defend myself with slightly changing the old saying “To be biased is human”. And especially the erring comes from human weakness. Ray personally was biased for Soumitra.

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