By Sahana Ghosh
Abir Chatterjee, who recently became the first actor to portray Bengali literature’s iconic sleuths, Satyajit Ray’s Feluda and Sharadindu Bandopadhyay’s Byomkesh Bakshi, in two major movie adaptations, had his work cut out. Much like the ace detectives’ eye for details, Chatterjee too had to capture the finer points of the classic characters to satisfy generations of bookworms.
Chatterjee’s focus was clear. He wanted to be accurate without being repetitive in the whodunnit films – “Byomkesh Phire Elo” and “Baadshahi Angti” – that simultaneously released in West Bengal Dec 19. After all, the two detective series, spaced about three decades apart, have been the staple of crime fiction fans since the 1930s.
“There was a healthy gap of one year between the making of the two films. Though the characters are different and set in different periods, there are basic similarities like observation power, intelligence, sense of morals and honesty, the way they portray Bangaliana (Bengali psyche).
“My concern was that the performances shouldn’t be repetitive because if there’s repetition,then people will notice and be critical. It was a challenge to differentiate between Byomkesh and Feluda,” the Kolkata-based Chatterjee told IANS in an interview.
In Anjan Dutt’s “Byomkesh Phire Elo” (Byomkesh Returns), the third film in the series, Chatterjee reprises his role of the famed dhoti-clad, bespectacled ‘Satyanweshi’ or truth-seeker, a man who goes by instincts in pursuit of truth.
The film is based on a story penned by Bandopadhyay as part of his series of 33 crime thrillers – from 1932 to 1970 – with Byomkesh as the cerebral protagonist.
The latest Byomkesh outing is set in the late 1960s.
In Sandip Ray’s “Baadshahi Angti”, adapted from auteur Satyajit Ray’s Feluda novels (spanning 1965 to 1992), Chatterjee essays the steely resolve and agility of Charminar-puffing private investigator Pradosh C. Mitter (who goes by his nickname Feluda) as he puts his observation methods to full use.
Earlier, Feluda movies saw veterans Soumitra Chatterjee and Sabyasachi Chakraborty play the sleuth, who is accompanied in his adventures by cousin Topshe and writer friend Jatayu.
The new Feluda film, though based on the 1969 “Baadshahi Angti” story, is a reboot of the series and unfolds in the current age of cafes and snazzy cars. It had a nationwide release Jan 2.
“To play Byomkesh early on in my career was a challenge in itself. The bar was raised in the third film of the series. Also, playing neo-Feluda after the veterans was a huge challenge,” said the actor, who forayed into films from television in 2009 and took on the role of Byomkesh in 2010.
Interestingly, filmmaker Dibakar Banerjee is all ready with the Bollywood version of Byomkesh Bakshi – the Sushant Singh Rajput-starrer “Detective Byomkesh Bakshy!”.
Dismissing comparisons, Chatterjee says the big-budget Hindi film is targeted at a much larger audience.
Chatterjee, who had a bit role in Sujoy Ghosh’s “Kahaani” as Vidya Balan’s husband, is one of the most bankable stars in Tollywood today, with critically-acclaimed films like “Hrid Majharey” (with Raima Sen), “Baishe Shrabon” and “Meghe Dhaka Tara” under his belt.
Introduced to Feluda during his childhood and Byomkesh in his teens, Chatterjee, like any other Bengali, was more than familiar with the essence of the series.
The former appeals more to adolescents and the stories steer clear of any sexual angles. In contrast, the latter caters to adults punctuated with lust and adultery. Feluda is a bachelor, Byomkesh is married off in the tenth book.
“I made sure my body language and expressions were different in the two films,” quipped Chatterjee.
As Chatterjee stepped into Feluda’s shoes, the side-parting of the actor’s hairstyle switched from right to left. His athletic build and sharp features added to the practised intense gaze, one of Feluda’s typical mannerisms as he swiftly evaluates his subjects.
“I sort of distanced myself from the earlier films to unlearn, and I refrained from thinking about comparisons with the former Feludas,” the 33-year-old said.
With numerous awards in his kitty, including the ‘Face of Bengali Cinema – 2014’ and his mass appeal, Chatterjee is aware of the importance of bringing cinegoers back to halls to watch Bengali cinema.
According to a CII-IMRB Report, the majority (54 percent) of Bengali film viewers in Kolkata have not been in theatres in the last one year to watch a Bengali film despite the proliferation of multiplexes.
“We need to make for more family entertainers and tap into the Bengali diaspora to widen the reach,” the MBA graduate and father of one stressed.