Soumitra Chatterjee, the first to portray Satyajit Ray's iconic character Feluda in films, says he never imagined that the dapper detective would become a cult overnight after the release of "Sonar Kella" in 1974.
For the 81-year-old legendary actor, Feluda came exactly the way he did in the life of most Bengalis. Generations have grown up reading the adventures of the Charminar cigarette-puffing private eye, teaming up with his cousin Topshe and friend Lalmohan Ganguli to capture devious culprits and solve puzzling mysteries.
"I had become a fan of Manik da's (as Ray was popular known as) detective soon after the publication of 'Badshahi Angti'... I had never imagined that I would be the one to play the character on screen. When Manik da first called me to say I would play Felu in 'Sonar Kella', I was thrilled," he recalls.
So the film became a hit and Chatterjee says every time he went of his house, boys and girls would scream 'Feluda, Feluda' the moment they spotted him.
"I must confess that I had never imagined Felu would become a cult almost overnight after the release of 'Sonar Kella' in 1974," Chatterjee is quoted as telling Boria Majumdar in the latter’s new book "Feluda@50".
"Feluda@50" has been published by HarperCollins India to mark the 50th year of the phenomenal private eye who real name is Prodosh Chandra Mitter. The book has several articles related to Feluda and also three interviews of the actors who played the super sleuth on screen – Chatterjee, Sabyasachi Chakrabarty and Abir Chatterjee.
Chatterjee played the lead role in both the Feluda films directed by Ray – "Sonar Kella" and "Joi Baba Felunath" (1979). Sabyasachi acted in six Feluda films directed by Ray's son Sandip while Abir played the lead role in the last Feluda film in 2014.
Sandip has plans to make five more Feluda stories in the next five years.
Asked to compare Feluda with Byomkesh Bakshi, another popular fictional detective in Bengali literature created by Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay, Chatterjee says, “Byomkesh is far more serious than Feluda. And yes, Byomkesh stories are more nuanced than the Feluda adventures.
"But the singular difference between Byomkesh and Felu is that Felu is an out-and-out entertainer, while Byomkesh is not. Felu's constituency is universal, Byomkesh's is not. Felu can reach out to every section of society, but you need to be mature enough to appreciate Byomkesh."
The three fundamental traits of Feluda, according to him, are integrity, honesty and morality.
"Felu is upright and honest, And the other thing which appealed to me a great deal is his patriotism," Chatterjee says, adding his nationalism and patriotism need to be studied.
"It is a very different kind of politics that Ray wanted Felu to engage with. Felu may have been cocooned from the Leftist politics of the time, but his engagement with other key issues is no less important," he says.
Another important thing Chatterjee points out is the absence of women in Feluda stories.
"Ray wanted Feluda to be read and watched by school-goers, he was conscious not to introduce women or romance into the ambit to the Feluda adventures," he says.