This one is a movie review. But, perhaps would be appreciated more by people who have some familiarity with Feluda – the quintessential detective and a Satyajit Ray creation. The stories originally appeared either in Sandesh (a children’s magazine run primarily by Ray’s family) and then in the annual festive editions of Anandamela. Not too long, these stories have delighted children and adults alike and have created an ardent set of Feluda fans. “da” of course is the abbreviated form of dada, his name is Pradosh Chandra Mitter whose “satellite” (sidekick) is his school going cousin Tapesh.
Ray started turning his Feluda stories to movies with “Sonar Kella” and brought the desert town of Jaisalmer to national limelight and opened up possibilities of tourism. His second of the series was “Joi Baba Felunath” based in Benares. That was that. Later Manikda’s son Sandip started cinematising (a neologism) the series starting with “Bombaier Bombete”, “Kailashe Kelenkari”, “Tintorettor Jishu”, “Gorosthane Shaabdhaan” and “Royal Bengal Rohosyo”. But, you might already know all this.
Sandip Ray’s latest is “Badshaahi Angti” which released in December last year in Bengal and is getting released in the rest of the country. The first bunch of his movies except Tintorettor Jishu and Kailashe Kelenkari (in parts) did no justice to his father’s stories nor his way of film making. His choice for a Feluda in his late twenties was a brooding actor in his late forties. In the last two outings the actor was visibly old, already in his fifties and had developed a paunch. Seriously? His choice of stories, and the sequence has been pedestrian. Gorosthane Shaabdhaan, for instance, is a story with little physical action and does not lend itself to a movie. Royal Bengal seemed like a West Bengal tourism documentary on the Dooars with poor CGI of a Royal Bengal Tiger. The music created no sense of suspense.
Anyways, let me to focus on Badshahi Angti and not on his previous juvenile misadventures. This has been a movie about two years in the making based on Felu’s second story and tremendously anticipated by Feluda fans. Felu has yet not become the professional detective, still works at some corporate, does not yet own his Colt .32, Jatayu has not arrived on the scene and Tapesh’ father does accompany Felu and Tapesh in their travels. This is Feluda’s second adventure.
The story is brilliant, based in Lucknow using the prominence of Bara Imambara and its labyrinth, the ruins of the Residency, the Baradari and of course Hazratganj. Ray’s (senior) work weaves the story of a diamond (and other precious stones) ring owned by Aurangzeb, a seth (merchant), an Osteopath and a peculiar Bonobihari babu whose pets are a Hyena, a jungle cat, a rattlesnake, a blackwidow spider, blue scorpions and the like. Towards the end it gets revealed that this gregarious but somewhat menacing Bonobihari Sarkar is the villain of the piece. The story is interspersed with little very interesting tidbits about the town itself which lends a flavour to the story and adds character to Lucknow as a city. The story is about the theft of the ring. Bonobihari babu’s character slowly gains prominence along with his growing menacing behaviour and reaches its peak towards the climax which is full of edge of the seat suspense, fear created by his rattlesnake, some quick fire action, and some shooting by Mahaveer (Seth Pyarilal’s cricket playing, actor and crackshot son).
The movie starts okay but becomes a UP tourism documentary on Lucknow very quickly and has short term memory loss about the purpose of the movie. Most Bengali folk reading this most likely have already sharpened their knives to stab me in the heart.
As usual Sandip Ray’s casting is sketchy and off the mark in parts. The casting coup definitely is Abir Chatterjee who joins the Feluda franchise in the lead character. Good looking and young Abir certainly is going to be around for some more outings. His acting skills are very acceptable, has the tinge of humour and the twinkle in his eyes – all that Felu is supposed to have. The new Topshe (Sourav Das) appears has the always surprised expression which, one hopes, will change with some experience.
Veteran Dipankar Dey plays Tapesh’ father and is wasted there. He would have done a great job as the devilish Bonobihari babu. Then there is the actor who plays Bonobihari babu. This character is middle aged, well built and full of villany. The role is played by Paran Bandopadhyay who is about tottering in his old age. Allow me to single out this man’s continued bumbling movie damaging run in the Feluda franchise despite his acting skills (or the lack thereof). Grandfatherly, Paran Bandopadhyay, should belong to the “Jatra” world with his over dramatized way of acting, introduces frivolity to what should be a character with gravity. Besides whatever else might have contributed to this movie, this individual is the iceberg to the Titanic, the torpedo to the Bismarck and the Zero to the USS Arizona all rolled into one. Rajatava Dutta does a decent job as Ganesh Guha, but again his talent is wasted in the cameo.
While music used to play a role to be important enough to be a character (in Manikda’s Feluda), it loses its hold in this movie. Sandip Ray’s music is as lack lustre as Anu Malik’s (minus the yodeling) and seems apt again for an Incredible India documentary. The music fails to create atmosphere, fear or suspense and turns out to be pedestrian.
The CGI (as in the previous outing) is poor and would appear in place in a Hollywood 3rd tier movie from the 80s. There is plenty good quality CGI work done in India now. Why Sandip Ray would avoid that quality is best known to him. The rattlesnake looks almost comical.
But the movie isn’t all drivel. The story is good (no credit to Junior), Lucknow appears cleaner than it is and Abir shows promise. He will develop in the next outing for sure. The dialogues are straight from the original story, and thus tight. The best shot in the movie, also a stand out, is the very last one where the sun glints off “the ring” on Felu’s finger.
It might not be a bad idea to get someone like Anjan Dutta to jump over and start making the Feluda series with Abir, instead of us being subjected to documentaries about different locations in India by India’s famous documentary maker.