Bengal's Own Private Investigator | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, September 23, 2016 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, September 23, 2016

Bengal's Own Private Investigator

In the year 1965, a popular children's magazine named Shandesh published a story written by Satyajit Ray. This story produced a protagonist from Rajani Sen Road, Kolkata, who was a sharp young man of around 27, with a tall (6 feet to be precise) athletic physique, and had superb analytical abilities and observation skills (which Ray called Magajastra). The story was a detective fiction and was well received by the audience. Nobody then knew that this character would go on to become a cult classic for Bangali youngsters and adults all over. Even after 50 years, the character Prodosh C Mitter aka Felu Mitter or Feluda as we all know and love, still mesmerises and holds a special place in all Bangalis' hearts.

Satyajit Ray gave life to our Bangali detective through 'Feludar Goyendagiri', which was the first novel of this series. Ray had deep interest in crime fiction and children content which resulted into Felu Mitter. 

Though Ray in several interviews admitted that Conan Doyal's Sherlock Holmes was one of his major inspirations for Feluda, Felu Mitter developed his own personality over the years as an icon. Other than his good looks, he is presented as a very well behaved and well read character—'Bhodro' in every Bangali sense. Yet he is equally at ease doing a kung fu stunt or eating exotic foods in Hong Kong. He might be pensive but never impolite; a person who still uses public transport and lives at his uncle's. Other then his regular Charminar (the cigarette brand of his choice) Feluda is never seen drinking or doing drugs. He reflects the ideal image of a middle class Bangali which is one of the major reasons why this character stood out then any other fictional detective icons. 

Through 1965 to 1992 Satyajit Ray wrote more than 30 novels and short stories and directed two movies on Feluda. The success of Feluda wasn't just because of Felu Mitter alone. When we say Feluda it's not just one person but three that comes to mind. Without Feluda's cousin, who is also his side kick Tapesh Ranjan Mitra aka Topshe as Feluda dearly calls him and the famous Lalmohan Babu aka Jatayu; Feluda would never be able to accomplish his missions. The stories written by Ray were all narratives from Topshe. The teenage boy pushes his cousin to take the weird cases and helps him side by side in a very Bangali Watson way. Feluda's first case was because of Topshe's eve's dropping in 'Feludar Goyendagiri' and it is safe to say that without Topshe urging him to take up cases maybe Feluda would never be the private investigator he became.

Interestingly enough, Felu Mitter is not the only most loved character of the Feluda universe. This title can also go to the short, stocky, witty and talented Lalmohan Babu. This character was first introduced in the novel 'Shonar Kella' and from then on he accompanies Feluda and Topshe on all their major adventures. Other than writing crime stories Lalmohan is seen having a knack for collecting weird weaponry which can fight side by side with Felu Mitter's 32 Kolt revolver. His use of Boomerang in Bakshya Rahashya or the 'Jap Jantra' in 'Joto Kando Kathmundu te' was sheer genius. It is for this dash of swagger, that readers can say that no other sidekicks can match the man from Gorpar in North Kolkata. Another favourite character is Sidhu Jatha – a living encyclopaedia who helps Feluda and the gang from time to time when they are stuck in dead end—the Mycroft Holmes of the Feluda series.

If we look for the elements for Feluda's popularity we have to include the role of the vicious antagonists. This is where Feluda readers face a big dilemma— do we love them or hate them! These dacoits as Lalmohon Babu puts it, challenge Feluda on a regular basis. Villains such as Maghal Laal Meghraj, Mondar Bose, Pakrashi are all unique in their own way. Ray created them in such a way that it is very hard to not be intimidated.

Though they are amazing crime thrillers; the Feluda novels can also be considered as great travelogue. The grand narration on the deserts of Rajasthan in Shonar Kella or the exquisite details of Kanshi in Joy Baba Felunath can only be written by a maestro like Satyajit Ray. The cases which were based on Kolkata also give a wonderful picture of the streets of New Market, Park Street, Rajani Sen etc.

Other than the sketches by Satyajit, whenever readers try to imagine Felu Mitter, the face that pops out is of famous actor Soumitra Chatterjee. When Ray gave life to Feluda on celluloid Soumitra had the honour to portray the Bangali investigator. It is needless to say that he did an outstanding job but the actor who won everyone's heart was Santash Dutta, portraying Lalmohan. In an interview director Sandip Ray, son of Satyajit Ray stated that Santash Dutta did so well, Satyajit later changed the illustration of Lalmohan and made it look like Santosh.  Sandip Ray later casted Sabyasachi Chakrabarti as Feluda and Robi Ghosh as Lalmohan which later changed to Bibhu Bhatacharya after Ghosh died.

Pages after pages can be written on Felu Mitter and the gang. Topics such as why Felu Mitter never got married, his love for food, Topshe's age being always the same can come up in various debates. Yet the main question remains—why Feluda still dictates the Bangali detective fiction scene. It is because he is one of us, and we can be like him too. He is very much real. Whenever we hear about Feluda, we treat him like he is the living next door, some character of a book. For all these reasons Feluda and the gang will forever be in our Magojastra.

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