Article Bengali

Sandip Ray remembers last 'Jatayu' Bibhu Bhattacharya on his 74th birth anniversary

On his 74th birth anniversary today (he was born on 17 September 1944), we remember the actor, who was the most suitable choice for the fictional character of crime thriller writer created by Satyajit Ray, after Santosh Dutta.

Roushni Sarkar

Actor Bibhu Bhattacharya became famous for his portrayal of Lalmohan Ganguly, a.k.a Jatayu in Sandip Ray’s Feluda films, but very few people are aware of the fact that the actor started his career merely as an infant. On his 74th birth anniversary today (he was born on 17 September 1944), we remember the actor, who was the most suitable choice for the fictional character of crime thriller writer created by Satyajit Ray, after Santosh Dutta.

Bhattacharya (credited as Master Bibhu) never attended school. He was acting in studios when he was offered his first role in Maryada (1950) at the age of four-and-a-half. He soon became popular as a child artiste and acted in films, including Prahlad (1952), Bindur Chheley (1952), Dhruva (1953), Rani Rashmoni (1955) and others. He frequently shared screen space with legendary actors such as Chhabi Biswas and Jahar Ganguly. However, destiny had different plans for him and as Bhattacharya became a teenager, no more film offers came in his way. His last film as a child artiste was Sagar Sangamey (1959).

But Bhattacharya was a born actor and had no other career option. He kept himself busy with theatre and television series till he received the offer to play Jatayu in 1998, after 38 years since he did his last film. It is well known that Ray only directed two Feluda films Sonar Kella (1974) and Joi Baba Felunath (1979) as his 'Jatayu' Santosh Dutta died after that and he could not think of anybody else as the crime thriller writer who was quite weak and nervous in real life and is the source of comic relief in most of the stories from the Feluda series.

When Sandip Ray started his journey with Feluda, his first choice for the character was Rabi Ghosh. “We chose Rabi Ghosh for Baksho Rohosyo (1996) and then he again appeared in Gosaipur Sargaram, another television venture. I feel, he was slowly getting into the character of Jatayu, but then unfortunately he passed away and we were in a fix. Then came Anup Kumar, but his health was also failing during that time. Then I cast Bibhu da. It took him some time to get into the skin of the character, but I must say that he did extremely well in the later films,” said Sandip Ray. The young director gradually formed a special chemistry with Bhattacharya as well, as he did with his favourite Sabyasachi Chakraborty, who essayed Feluda in all of his films and series.

Sandip Ray

“We all knew Bibhu da as a child artiste and after that I first spotted him in a television serial in which he was wearing a wig. I became curious and asked whether his hair was real and got assured that he was bald, like Jatayu,” said Sandip Ray. “Then he came to our place and he was extremely affectionate and had a lot of warmth. It took us no time to decide that he would be the next Jatayu. No screen test was needed,” reminisced the director.

Bhattacharya’s journey as Lalmohan Ganguly began with Jahangirer Shornomudra (1999) and he eventually acted in Bombaiyer Bombete (2003), Kailashey Kelenkari (2007), Tintorettor's Jesus (2008), Gorosthane Sabdhan (2010) and Royal Bengal Rahasya (2011).

Sandip Ray never faced any difficulty in directing the gifted the actor; it was rather a smooth journey for him. “He was a bit nervous; quite naturally, as he was playing the distinguished character. Gradually, he could shed his nervousness and bring out his own version of Jatayu. I specifically told him not to watch Datta’s performance in my father’s film, so that he did not get much influenced. As I had asked Benu (Chakraborty), similarly, I told him to look at the character with a fresh approach,” elaborated the director.

Much like his own career, Bhattacharya’s departure from the mortal world was no less dramatic. He completed shooting and dubbing for his last film Royal Bengal Rahasya (2011) and passed away immediately after. “It was quite uncanny. I remember he completed his dubbing after lunch on that day. Then he said, 'We have finished quite early, let’s get together for adda at your place'. He came to my place, we had tea and then he left at around 4:30 or 5pm. Then within seven hours, we got the news that he was gone. It is quite strange how he completed his work and saved us from any kind of trouble. It was so sudden and unfortunate,” recalled Sandip Ray with sadness. Bhattacharya died of a heart attack on 22 September 2011 in Kolkata.

The journey has come full circle as now Sandip Ray faces the same crisis his great father once did. “Now it has become really difficult for us to find a suitable actor for Jatayu. If I make Feluda films in the future, all of them would require his character and let’s see if I can get someone who can replace Bibhu da,” concluded Sandip Ray.