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Sabyasachi was my only choice for Feluda, says Sandip Ray – Birthday special

Feluda, however, is not the only thing common to the director and the male lead of the iconic series of Bengali detective films.

Sandip Ray and Sabyasachi Chakraborty

Roushni Sarkar

It is quite uncanny that one of the most popular actor-director pairs of Bengali cinema, Sandip Ray and Sabyasachi Chakraborty, share their birthday. Both were born on 8 September, Ray in 1953 and Chakraborty in 1956.

The collaborative output of the director and the actor has become part of Bengali culture and psyche since their on-screen adventures with the iconic Feluda, created by the great filmmaker Satyajit Ray, began in 1995.

Fictional private investigator Pradosh C Mitter aka Feluda first made an appearance in the Bengali children’s magazine Sandesh in 1965. The first screen adaptation of a Feluda story, Shonar Kella, was directed by Satyajit Ray himself in 1974. Ray’s favourite actor, Soumitra Chatterjee, donned the avatar of Felu Mitter while Siddhartha Chatterjee played Topse and Santosh Dutta essayed Jatayu.

Ray only directed one other Feluda film, Joy Baba Felunath, with the same main cast in 1979. He stopped making further Feluda films as Santosh Dutta died and he could not think of anyone else to essay the interesting character of Jatayu.

On the 30th anniversary of the first publication of the Feluda series, Ray's son Sandip was musing about making a big-screen venture on the detective. “We were planning to do something interesting to commemorate the anniversary," he recalled. "I had already been introduced to Benu [Chakraborty] and he had expressed his desire to play Feluda. We started approaching various producers, but nobody was interested, even after Shonar Kella and Joy Baba Felunath. Then we thought, let’s go for television.”

Sandip Ray planned a telefilm, which was not yet a trend, and got financial assistance from Chhayabani Private Limited.

“We formed a team with Benu, Saswata Chatterjee and Robi Ghosh on board and made Baksho Rohosyo," he said. "This was the start. But as we went on approaching several channels, they were not inclined to broadcast the telefilm. Rather, they asked us to do a series.”

However, as the team was keen on a full-length feature, they approached Calcutta's government-owned Nandan cinema complex to screen the telefilm. “We arranged for shows in Nandan 2, twice a day for a month," said Ray. "It was a pioneering effort. For the first time a film was being released through digital projection. It was a tremendous success. The show was houseful for four weeks.”

Strangely, despite the houseful shows, Ray could not find a producer willing to back a full-length feature film on Feluda. Instead, he received financial aid for a television series. Hence, the Feluda 30 (1996-1998) series was made by splitting the short stories to fit half-hour slots.

A full-length Feluda film, Bombaiyer Bombete, was made again only in 2003, that too with help from Telugu media and movie mogul Ramoji Rao, not any Bengali producer.

“First we did Dr Munshir Diary (2000) for ETV Bangla," said Sandip Ray. "It, too, became extremely popular. Ramoji Rao was planning to start Bengali productions. The crew members and artistes in ETV Bangla approached him, saying there were many more Feluda stories and I was willing to make films on them. Rao agreed to produce and thus we started shooting for Bombaiyer Bombete."

Referring to his collaboration with Chakraborty, which spans almost a quarter of a century now, Sandip Ray said, “It has been an extremely smooth and delightful journey with Benu. Honestly, till now I cannot think of anybody else as Feluda. A terrific chemistry and rapport has formed between us. He almost understands my requirements before I open my mouth, and vice-versa. The journey has been quite interesting and I enjoy it thoroughly.”

On a lighter note, the director added, “I have heard Benu saying quite a few times in public that doing Feluda films keeps him happy and lifts his mood even at home and hence his wife also remains in a jovial mood (laughs)."

Ray is all praise for his favourite actor and his hard work since 1995. “He has been exceptional throughout and there is no doubt about it," he said. "Even I was apprehensive in the beginning whether the audience will accept anyone else after Soumitra Chatterjee, because [those films were] done by the creator [of Feluda] himself. But I can say with conviction that this generation knows Benu as Feluda and I am very happy that we have been able to achieve this. I had a great time; you can say I have had the best time of my life doing Feluda with him.”

Ray and Chakraborty have collaborated on Bombaiyer Bombete, Kailashey Kelenkari (2007), Tintorettor Jishu (2008), Gorosthaney Sabdhan (2010), Royal Bengal Rahasya (2011) and Double Feluda (2016), apart from the television ventures.

“We did not have to look back after Bombaiyer Bombete," the filmmaker said with a sense of satisfaction. "There was a time when no one was interested to touch Feluda. Then the situation reversed. Producers were ready to do three films with me if only one of them would be on Feluda! Producers harbour the same interest even now and the demand is still there for Feluda films.”

Asked how much he would credit Chakraborty for the success, Ray replied, “I give him huge credit. It was not possible without him. He was the only choice as Feluda. If an artiste gets a dream role, the performance becomes magical. Benu went all out for it.”

Ray said he advised Chakraborty not to repeatedly watch the old Feluda films of his father and Soumitra Chatterjee, so as not to become conscious of what he was up against. They simply started afresh and it worked wonderfully.

The actor and director keep in touch even when they are not doing films. “He is extremely busy," said Ray of Chakraborty. "He is into lots of activities. He often roams around in forests and does photography. Also, lot of events on Feluda are organized in and outside the country and we get to meet there often. We engage in informal discussions, adda. For example, last year at the Banga Sanskriti Sammelan in Santa Clara, San Francisco, Benu and Saheb (Bhattacharya), the new Topse, were present and we had a great time. They organized an interesting exhibition on Feluda and screened films. That event went very well.”

Ray hopes to make a few more Feluda films. “I have two or three projects in my head," he said. "I will see how we are going to work that out because all of us are ageing and we need to keep that in mind. If the audiences and the followers want more, then definitely Benu can make a comeback because I did my last film, Double Feluda, with him. So one never knows what happens next.”