Satyajit Ray, legendary film director and one of the greatest creative minds of the last half of the 20th century, is introduced to the Bengali from an earlier age than most others. This is by dint of the sparkling novels and short stories that he has written for children and adolescents. Few Bengali kids have not read the stories of Feluda the detective, and Professor Shonku the genius scientist, two of the most famous characters within Ray’s oeuvre. Recently, my heart filled with joy when a Tamilian-Kannadiga couple I am friends with, mentioned that their 12-year old loves the Feluda stories.
Translation is wonderful, isn’t it? But Feluda has been translated in another medium earlier. Ray was, first and foremost, a movie director. He had brought two Feluda novels to film — the first of which, Sonar Kella (The Golden Fortress, 1974), you will be surprised to know, is also Salman Rushdie’s favourite Ray movie. And what an amazing movie, and what a brilliant novel it is! A glorious romp across the deserts of Rajasthan in search of devious villains, this is one Feluda story that should be on the must-watch list of every adolescent.
Eight-year old Mukul Dhar has visions of a childhood spent amongst jewelry in a sandy desert-land. Perhaps Mukul Dhar can actually remember parts of his previous birth? Renowned parapsychologist Dr. Hemanga Hajra is intent on finding this out. He believes that if Mukul is brought to the home of his previous birth, there might be landmark developments in paranormal psychology.
But there is evil at work — all the talk of jewelry and precious stones catch the attention of criminal mastermind Amiyanath Barman, and his henchman Mandar Bose. They intend to capture Mukul and thourgh him, get their hands on the jewels. They botch up an attempted kidnapping of Mukul, who had already left for Rajasthan with Dr Hajra. Mukul’s father, when appraised of the botched kidnapping, is fearful of the well-being of his son, and approaches the private investigator Pradosh Mitter aka Feluda to travel to Rajasthan to offer protection to Mukul. And thus starts
‘Feluda Followers’ is a Facebook group of ardent Feluda devotees. Today morning, someone in the group mentioning how under-estimated the character of Mandar Bose is. It is a very fair point. See, being a villain’s henchman is a fairly thankless job. An evil sidekick in movies is often of the ‘Arey o Saambha’ variety, fairly textbook evil folks and without any defining characteristic of their own.
Mandar Bose is a glorious exception. Evil? Oh yes he is evil. He will push a man down a cliff, or put a knife down someone’s ribs without hesitation. Thug? Sure he is a thug. He is berated by the cold and menacing Barman for not being the sharpest tool in the box. But he is also funny, super creative in his lies, and has a joie de vivre that is almost addictive. In the movie as well, Kamu Mukherjee, the actor in the role, is greatly loved. A must-read, and certainly, a must-watch!
The writer is a business development executive in Hyderabad