About four decades ago, Feluda introduced millions of Bengali readers to a new English coinage of the time: Unputdownable. In the story Golokdham Rahashya (The Mysterious Tenant), Satyajit Ray's now-immortal detective tells his teenage cousin-cum-sidekick Topshe that the word, which is being used in the world of English writing, describes well our epics Ramayana and Mahabharata.
Exactly 50 years since the young, intense Prodosh C Mitter alias Feluda started finding his warm, pillow-side place in Bengali households, the same "unputdownable" can be used about books of his adventures.
Feluda@50, a timely collection of essays and interviews curated by sports journalist Boria Majumdar, tries to make sense of this remarkable journey of Bengal and perhaps India's best-known detective (some may say that mantle should go to Byomkesh Bakshi). The book, although not as unputdownable as the Feluda stories, provides insight into sociocultural background that gave us the character, and has hundreds of enthralling anecdotes about the books and movies made on them and about their creator, Ray. It also goes into the mundane but crucial challenges of carrying on the legacy, the economics of the phenomenon.
Six of the chapters are by Boria himself. Indrajit Hazra, Sovan Tarafder, Rochona Majumdar, Abhijit Bhaduri and Mir have taken up aspects of the Feluda story.
Boria goes backstage with the legendary Satyajit's son, Sandip, and the person who carries his legacy by making Feluda movies and writing the detective's stories in puja editions of popular magazines. Sandip speaks about his struggle with getting the Feluda screen adaptations going.
"There is little doubt Sandip Ray has been instrumental in keeping alive, indeed growing, the cult of Feluda with his numerous celluloid versions of the detective, starting with Baksha Rahashya in 1996," writes Boria.
Feluda's other assistant, the bumbling but trusted Lalmohan Babu or Jatayu, the writer of hyperbolic crime thrillers, finds a rightful place in Boria's pieces. He compares Jatayu with Captain Haddock. From his hilarious LSD trip in Joto Kando Kathmandute to his tragi-comic predicament at the hands of the villain Maganlal Meghraj in Joy Baba Felunath, he emerges not as a sidekick but a co-protagonist of Feluda.
|Feluda @ 50; HarperCollins; Rs 499.|
A little more space should have been spent on the extraordinary detective's extraordinary villains. Feluda almost picks his villains. They are men with fascinating minds, who happened to cross a very fine moral line. From Meghraj to Banabiharibabu of Badshahi Aangti to Taraknath Thakur alias TNT of Nayan Rahashyo, some of his best villains are collectors - of rare antiques, or dangerous animals, or (as in the case of Nayan) humans gifted at memorising numbers of lock combinations and other strange stuff.
Any discussion about his villains would of course be incomplete without the Sonar Kella twosome: Amiyanath Burman alias fake Dr Hazra and Mandar Bose. And while Boria presents Feluda as a study in contrast with Holmes, our home-grown detective has much in common. Both are tall and recede into a heavy cloud of smoke and silence when the mystery is at its most critical point. Ray could not subject middle-class Bengali sensibilities to Doyle's character's cocaine and morphine habits, so Feluda stops at the unfiltered Charminar cigarettes.
And like Holmes, Feluda has extraordinary observation and deduction powers, even greater than Byomkesh, certainly more than Sunil Gangopadhyay's Kaka-babu, Samaresh Majumdar's Arjun, Syed Mustafa Siraj's Colonel, or Hemendra Kumar Roy's Jayanta (possibly the first notable detective in the Bengali pantheon).
Indrajit Hazra argues how Feluda is poised between the effete stereotype of the Bengali bhadralok and the un-intellectual, brawny Bantul the Great "whirling Pakistani tanks by their nozzles Incredible Hulk-style" in the comic books.
Rochona wants to be Feluda's assistant, Topshe. Just like Lucy Liu is Watson in Robert Doherty's TV series Elementary.
Sovan deliberates on the smouldering social and political scene of '60s and '70s Kolkata, going into crime stats. Feluda the detective's clientele, he says, "are aged, sceptic, at best described as the citizens of a past world untouched by the disquiet of the time around them".
Feluda@50 achieves more than what it fails to. Those pickled from childhood in these stories, as well as the newly curious, should read it.
(Courtesy of Mail Today.)