It is no secret that Feluda was Satyajit Ray's answer to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes. Nonetheless, for at least three generations, Feluda has been a household name in most Bengali families. When Ray brought Detective P C Mitter from pages to the screen, his hand drawn illustrations hinted to just one name— Soumitra Chatterjee.
Among the novels and stories that Ray wrote especially for young readers, the detective stories of Feluda are by far the most popular. With calculated amounts of wit, humour, suspense and action, these stories are considered classics of Bengali literature — so, it is not surprising that Ray directed two of them for the big screen. Soumitra made a cult figure of Ray's famous detective, playing the role in the two blockbusters, "Sonar Kella" (1974) and "Joi Baba Felunath" (1979).
Over time, the role has been reprised by many talented Bengali actors, but Soumitra's portrayal of Feluda remains iconic.
If Feluda is Holmes, the role of Watson goes to his goody two shoes cousin Topshe. Feluda also has the very Bengali, bumbling pulp writer, Lalmohan-babu, also known as Jatayu, by his side.
"Sonar Kella" takes Feluda and his associates to Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, in search of the 'Golden Fortress' while fighting off criminals. The film is a thriller, with a bellyful of laughs. In "Joi Baba Felunath", the characters take on the dreaded criminal mastermind Maganlal Meghraj in Varanasi. These films left quite a mark on my mind, as a young viewer.
Soumitra was 5 feet and 11.5 inches tall, while Feluda's height is 6 feet and 2 inches on the pages. The actor's appearance held an uncanny resemblance to the detective.
Many believe that Ray made Feluda's illustrations with Soumitra in mind. Similarly, the character of Jatayu truly resembles actor Santosh Dutta. However, on numerous occasions, Soumitra suggested that Feluda actually is like Ray.
While many have downgraded Ray's two Feluda films as being more popular than intellectual, Soumitra's brilliant portrayal of the detective charmed audiences across different generations.
Ray's passion for riddles, as impersonated by Feluda, is also significant. For instance, in "Joi Baba Felunath", when Ruku challenges Feluda with, Panch bhai ek sath, marche ghushi khache bhat, aro panch sathe tar, kemon achen, Nomoskar, solving the riddle, Feluda displays his ten fingers with a memorable smirk.
When Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote the 'death' of Sherlock Holmes, the author was under immense pressure to bring him back to life. Unfortunately, for the Bengali audience, the demise of the on-screen Feluda is an irreplaceable loss. Nonetheless, Soumitra Chatterjee's legacy as the Charminar- smoking, curious detective will keep him ageless and immortal in our hearts.
Priyanka Chowdhury is an art researcher and art writer in the making. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.