Director: Srijit Mukherji
Cast: Tota Roychowdhury, Anirban Chakrabarti, Kalpan Mitra, Dhritiman Chatterjee, Poulomi Das, Rishi Kaushik
Streaming on: Addatimes
The Feluda screen adaptations, after Ray, have signed themselves up for a lifetime of averageness. There is no topping Sonar Kella and Joi Baba Felunath not just because it was made by the great Ray, but the simple fact that it was a unique outcome of being translated from the books to screen by the creator of that fictional universe. And yet we must keep making Feluda, because it’s good business: we are sluts for nostalgia.
We are not exactly asking for a radical reinterpretation, because we prefer it classic — at least that’s how we’ve been trained to think, given Ray’s son Sandip never allowed anything else to happen; “You never know what would happen if it falls into other hands,” he once said in an interview with The Telegraph about why he is reluctant to throw open Feluda for other filmmakers to make. What has happened as a result is that an upper limit has been set: there is only so much you can do with Feluda — but Feluda make we must at least once every 5 years.
It seems that Sandip Ray is fine with others making Feluda as long as it’s a web series, but the psychological boundary remains. Srijit Mukherji’s Feluda Pherot is even more faithful an adaptation than the harmless, tepid films by Sandip, which was set in contemporary times, and ones that saw the iconic private detective speak on the cell phone, and threw into question the relevance of Sidhu Jyatha in the age of Google.
Mukherji sticks to the textbook. He draws from the illustrations in the books and the visual scheming of the Sonar Kella and Joi Baba Felunath movies. He gets the ‘look’ right: Tota Roychowdhury has the right physicality for Feluda — whether it’s his agility, or the neutrality of his face, in keeping with Ray’s sketches. And as for Lalmohan Ganguli, there hasn’t been any other Bengali actor with more likeness to Santosh Dutta than Anirban Chakraborty; same goes with Kalpan Mitra, who makes for a fine Topshe. There is a comic book touch (with subdued, classy colours) to the styling and the costuming — Feluda’s cream-coloured suit a throwback to Sonar Kella, and shawl wrapped around kurta to Felunath. The characters resemble the figures in our collective memory, but do they come alive on screen?
Roychowdhury, for one, ceases to be an actor and becomes some kind of an android human programmed to play Feluda. He walks and talks like the character but seems to be so tightly controlled that he forgets to breathe.
Roychowdhury, for one, ceases to be an actor and becomes some kind of an android human programmed to play Feluda. He walks and talks like the character but seems to be so tightly controlled that he forgets to breathe. It’s adequate when he is used as a model, like the scene where he rests in the verandah and lays down the basics of the story so far — in this scene, it’s more about how the camera frames him, and the unraveling of the mystery itself. But he goes cold when the scene demands him to be dramatic or relaxed, like the one when the trio go out for a walk after dinner — not unlike that scene from Felunath, when Soumitra Chatterjee so memorably recites nonsense verse (‘Baadur bole orey bhai shojaru…’), before they chance upon a murder.
Riddles abound in Chinnamastar Abhishap, as they did in Joi Baba Felunath. Mukherji selects a story, and scenes, that echo back to Ray’s movies (in the next season of Feluda Pherot, Maganlal Meghraj will return with Joto Kando Kathmandute). Feluda and co are holidaying in Hazaribagh, where they are invited at the Chowdhury’s, an aristocratic Bengali family living there for generations; in the meantime, a circus comes to town, and a tiger escapes.
There’s a sequence of a man breaking into the bungalow at the dead of the night that recalls Sonar Kella; and the shot of Feluda kneeling down to speak to the little girl in the story is a straight-up throwback to the famous frame from Felunath — a frame that visually illustrates one of Feluda’s greatest strengths: his connection with children, and his ability to engage with them as if they are equals. But Mukherji’s homage doesn’t have any of the magic — the child actor comes across as precocious. These referencing do more harm than good because they invite comparisons and lay bare the stark difference in quality with the Ray films.
Mukherji’s fondness for the material is evident. Even the theme song of the series, that brings together three big singers from modern day Bengali music, Rupankar Bagchi, Rupam Islam, and Anupam Roy, is a tribute to a tribute: a similar coming together of three singers, from the 90s, for “Feludar Gaan”, sung by Anjan Dutt, Kabir Suman and Nachiketa; it plays in the opening and closing credits over Ray’s illustrations. The problem is not that Mukherji doesn’t get Feluda. He understands the flavour — he gets a few things right, but these are largely at a cosmetic level, like the look and feel, the character dynamics between the trio, or Feluda’s personality traits — the web series format slows him down, in a good way; here the pace is more leisurely than his films. The problem is that he isn’t quite successful translating the story from book to screen.
Some of the noticeable visual strategies Mukherji adopts on his own don’t work. For instance, he alters the introduction of the tiger from the way it’s described in the book, where it’s part of a verbal exchange between Lalmohan babu and the chowkidar of the bungalow; a few paragraphs later, we get vignettes of reactions to the tiger by the local people of the town, such as the petrol pump owner’s wife who saw it in their courtyard and fainted. What Mukherji does is cut the conversation short, extend the courtyard incident into a bigger scene, and goes straight to it. The call to show rather than tell is correct, an idea that must’ve sounded good on paper, but Mukherji makes the mistake of doing both. The conversation is unnaturally short, and it doesn’t help that the CGI tiger is more believable than the fainting act by the actor playing the wife.
Inspite of that, Feluda Pherot might be the most watchable Srijit Mukherji work in a while. The self-restraint one imposes while making Feluda keeps in check his excesses, which often get the better of him. He plays it safe: you keep watching on the strength of Ray’s story alone, even if its told in a fairly by-the-numbers manner.