Gorosthane Sabdhan- a walk through Victorian Calcutta (গোরস্থানে সাবধান)

Calcutta 1893. Note the "old burial ground" next to Lower Circular Road

When Satyajit Ray wrote the Feluda novel, Gorosthane Shabdhan! (গোরস্থানে সাবধান) in 1977, the process of renaming streets and locations in Calcutta had already started. Of course, this reached a frenzied pace in recent years with the renaming of the city itself to Kolkata and the prime location of the novel, Park Street, to Mother Teresa Sarani. Nonetheless, in the story we find signs that change had already started. Dalhousie Square had become B.B.D. Bag in honour of the revolutionaries Binoy, Badal, and Dinesh. Topshe even had difficulty remembering that Ochterlony Monument had been renamed to Shaheed Minar! (Most people born in my generation have no clue who David Ochterlony was and what he did to deserve a monument).

low-res Google Maps view of Park Street Cemetery (2010)

I remember that my grandmother used to refer to places in Calcutta (or Kolkata, if you prefer) by their original names. She would always say Dalhousie Square, “Monument”, Theatre Road, Camac Street, Harrison Street, and Circular Road. Many of these names are still present in Gorosthane Shabdhan! but others are gone. During my lifetime, people started making a shift to the new official names, although there are pre-Independence names that are still common. For example, Chowringhee and Strand Road are still quite popular. In any case,  I will not be surprised if Esplanade is also “Indianised” soon.

Park Street Cemetery

Please note my personal opinion: I do not intend to make a political statement, but I do strongly feel that we cannot and should not try to wish away our heritage (whether good or bad). And part of the reason I personally find Gorosthane Shabdhan! to be a fascinating novel is because I see Feluda and Tosphe inquisitively digging away at the colonial history of the city.

Gorosthane shabdhan!

http://www.flickr.com/photos/keep-on-moving/ / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Calcutta 1924 - Most of the street names have been changed

Of course, Satyajit Ray’s story was written before the internet became a common resource. Today, we have it easy: we can look up many of the clues in the story and even figure out that the main antique, the Perigal repeater is a watch. But Feluda had to dig up the clues the hard way, by doing field-work and consulting Sidhu Jyatha, who unfortunately didn’t know about this priceless type of watch.  When I first read the Feluda stories, I didn’t have the  luxury of being able to use the internet either. Now reading the story, I feel as nostalgic about Feluda himself as I do about discovering the old-world charm of Victorian Calcutta.

However, since there are many readers like me who are only vaguely familiar with Calcutta (as opposed to Kolkata), I thought it would be proper to take a short virtual walk through the city in Gorosthane Shabdhan! For additional reading on the history of the city, I highly recommend Calcutta: The Living City Volume I edited by Sukanta Chaudhuri and published by Oxford University Press when the city turned 400. Pick it up at College Street before our bureaucrats change the name to Mahabidyalay Janapath!

In the story, Feluda poured over a map of Calcutta and Howrah dated from 1932. However, much of the story deals with Victorian Calcutta, and names didn’t get changed en masse until after India’s Independence from Great Britain in 1947. I’ve painstakingly acquired two maps of the city, one from 1893 and one from 1924 which you may find useful. Please note the names of streets in these two maps. These names have changed over the course of the last sixty years.

Feluda also mentioned Bourne & Shepherd, the oldest photographic studio still in operation. The gang also looked at pictures of Calcutta taken from atop the Ochterlony Monument in 1880. I’ve been able to find some pictures from around that time that will help us walk down the proverbial “Memory Lane.”

An albumen print from 1880 showing the floating Howrah Bridge (Courtesy Bourne & Shepherd)

The view from the Great Eastern Hotel circa 1880

Albumen print - view of Calcutta circa 1870

Albumen print, street-view of Calcutta showing Post Office, 1880

Albumen print with street view of Calcutta showing Main Post Office, circa 1880

Postcard showing Holwell Monument at the edge of Dalhousie Square. No longer near B.B.D. Bag anymore

Aerial view of Kolkata, circa 1945

Park Street, circa 1940

Please note that I have collected many of these antique photographs and postcards through eBay. You can find gems yourself by searching for Calcutta (“Kolkata” won’t work here). The photos can be freely used since they are not subject to copyright. If you can help me find the names of the photographers, please let me know so that I can attribute properly. The text is, however, subject to copyright and cannot be used without permission of Feluda.net.

©2010-2012 Feluda.net.

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Feluda Quiz 4 – Feludar Goendagiri (ফেলুদার গোয়েন্দাগিরি)

This is the fourth part of a series of trivia quizzes on Feluda films and stories. This quiz is on the story Feludar Goendagiri, in which both Topshe and Feluda were introduced in 1965. If you get stumped you may want to check out this discussion of the story.

Questions:

1. In which Bengali children’s magazine was this story first published?

2. What was Topshe’s full name in Feludar Goendagiri? How old was he at the time of this story?

3. What was Feluda’s father’s name as mentioned in this story?

4. What is the next story in the Feluda series after Feludar Goendagiri?

5. What was the offence that Rajen Majumdar had committed for which Tinkori Mukhopadhyay could not forgive him?

Answers:

1. Sandesh

2. Tapesh Ranjan Bose. He was thirteen-and-half.

3. Jaykrishna Mitter (Mitra)

4. Badshahi Angti (বাদশাহী আংটি)

5. Rajen Majumdar and Tinkori Mukhopadhyay both participated in a 100-yard dash when they were both studying at Bankura Missionary School. Rajen Majumdar tripped Tinkori Mukhopadhyay during the race and he was in a cast for three months afterwards.

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Feluda and Topshe in Feludar Goendagiri (ফেলুদার গোয়েন্দাগিরি)

When Satyajit Ray introduced a new Bengali detective in Feludar Goendagiri (ফেলুদার গোয়েন্দাগিরি) in the Bengali periodical Sandesh in 1965, he did not have any plans for continuing the series. Details on how the story originated can be found in Sandip Ray’s piece in a Feluda commemorative issue published 30 years later and also in a report published in The Telegraph. The short story involves a case quite simple compared to some of Feluda’s more intricate adventures.

We also learn some facts about Feluda, some of which change in future stories. In Feludar Goendagiri, Topshe’s name is Tapesh Ranjan Bose, and Pradosh Mitter (Feluda) is a cousin related to him on his mother’s side. Topshe’s name changes to Tapesh Ranjan Mitter (Mitra) in subsequent stories and so does the relationship. Tosphe is a little over thirteen, and Feluda is twenty-seven years old in the story. We also learn that Feluda’s father’s name is Jaykrishna Mitter (Mitra). Although Feluda is as sharp as ever, in my opinion, he does seem a bit more impatient with Topshe than in future stories.

From reading Sandip Ray’s reminisces we know that Satyajit Ray was fond of traveling and making sure Bengali readers could share his experiences through the Feluda adventures. Satyajit Ray directed Kanchenjunga, his first completely original screenplay a few years earlier. Kanchenjunga (which has always been one of my all-time favorite movies in any language) was shot in Darjeeling. For the first Feluda story, Feludar Goendagiri, readers were transported back to Darjeeling. Feluda would come back again for Darjeeling Jomjomat and Sandip Ray mentions that this was one of Satyajit Ray’s favorite places.

Through Topshe’s first-person narrative, Feluda also educates as well as entertains. From the outset, he explains his thought-process and shares tidbits of information with readers. For example, in Feludar Goendagiri, readers learn some facts about differences in Bengali type-fonts

Equally important, Feluda’s acute sense of observation is evident in Feludar Goendagiri. He notices minute details that others fail to detect. However, his acute powers are not limited to visual observation, since the sense of smell, plays a major part in this story. Feluda uses this sense to great effect in future stories such as Bombaiyer Bombete as well.

As discussed, many of the key features of future Feluda stories are already present in Feludar Goendagiri.

(If you’ve already read the story, please check out the quiz.)

©2010-2012 Feluda.net. All rights reserved.

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Feluda Quiz 3 – Actors in Feluda films (ছায়াছবিতে ফেলুদা)

This is the third part of a series of trivia quizzes on Feluda films and stories. The first and second quizzes  were on specific books and films.  We will return to the other stories and films in subsequent quizzes, but this one is on characters in the Feluda films (from Sonar Kella to Tintorettor Jishu). We hope you enjoy this set of questions as much as the others.

Questions:

1. Saswata Chatterjee and Parambrata Chatterjee are the two actors that have played the role of Topshe (তপসে) in the Sandip Ray Feluda films. Can you name the actor who was Topshe in Satyajit Ray’s two Feluda films?

2. Three actors have played the role of Tosphe and Jotayu (জটায়ু) in the Bengali cinematic releases. Three actors have also played the part of Sidhu Jyatha (সিধুজ্যাঠা). Can you name the three actors who played the part of Sidhu Jyatha in Sonar Kella, Baksho Rahasya, and Kailashe Kelenkari?

3.  Can you name the Bollywood actor who was originally considered for the part of Feluda in the Hindi series Satyajit Ray Presents?

4. I mentioned that three Bengali actors have played the part of Jotayu in the Bengali cinematic releases. Baksho Rahasya was a part of the Feluda 30 series aired on Indian television in 1996 before making a limited cinematic debut. Who was another actor that played the part of Jotayu in Feluda 30?

5. Satyajit Ray had a combination of four actors in his mind for Feluda according to a report published in The Telegraph in 2008. One them, was of course Soumitra Chatterjee. Who were the other three?

Answers:

1. Siddhartha Chatterjee. (All three Topshes are Chatterjees)

2. Harindranath Chattopadhyay in Sonar Kella, Ajit Bandyopadhyay in Baksho Rahasya, and Haradhan Bandopadhyay in Kailashe Kenenkari.

3. Amitabh Bachchan, read about it in Sandip Ray’s Aami aar Feluda (আমি আর ফেলুদা) and in this excellent blog-post by Nirmalya Nag.

4. Anup Kumar who was followed by Bibhu Bhattacharya

5.  Dhritiman Chatterji, Barun Chanda, and Subhendu Chatterjee. Read all about it in this article entitled “Feluda Phenomenon” in The Telegraph.

©2010-2012 Feluda.net. All rights reserved.

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Feluda Quiz 2 – Baksho Rahasya (বাক্স রহস্য)

This is the second part of a series of trivia quizzes on Feluda films and stories. The first quiz was on the film and the book Tintorettor Jishu.  If you’ve seen the film or read the book, Baksho Rahasya, you should be able to answer most of the questions in this quiz.

Questions:

1. Whose briefcase got exchanged with Feluda’s client Dinanath Lahiri’s similar-looking briefcase? Where did he live?

2. Who was the author of the travelogue on Tibet that Mr. Lahiri was reading on the Kalka Mail? What was the name of this travelogue?

3. What was the name of the book bought from Wheeler’s found in the briefcase that Mr. Lahiri ended up with?

4. What was the animal that Prokhor Rudra fought with at the North Pole in Jotayu’s novel released just before meeting Feluda and Topshe in Baksho Rahasya?

5. Who played the role of Sidhu Jyatha in the film version? (Hint: He shares his name with a famous fictional character in the Byomkesh Bakshi detective series).

6. What was the screen name of Dinanath Lahiri’s nephew, Prabir Lahiri who had an unsuccessful career in films?

7. What was the prized weapon of Lalmohan Ganguly (Jotayu) in Baksho Rahasya?

8. Chowringhee, Park Street, Theatre Road, and Lower Circular Road were all marked on the map of Kolkata found in the briefcase that Mr. Lahiri was left with after the exchange. What did Feluda find common to these locations?

9. What game was Naresh Pakrashi fond of playing?

10. At one point in the novel Lalmohan Ganguly wrongly states the proverb, “Truth is stranger than fiction.” What does he say?

Answers:

1. G.C. Dhameeja, resident at the “Nook”, Wild Flower Hall, in Shimla.

2. Shambhoo Churn Bose. The travelogue was titled A Bengalee in Lamaland. You will find the title in the book and not in the film.

3. In the book it was Ellery Queen’s The Door Between. In the film, it was Agatha Christie’s They Do It With Mirrors. I suspect that Sandip Ray might have had a hard time finding a copy of Ellery Queen’s book for the film.

4. It was a hippopotamus (জলহস্তী). Jotayu made a mistake in translating “walrus” into Bengali.

5. Ajit Bandyopadhyay (yes, the same name as the faithful friend of Byomkesh!)

6. Amar Kumar

7. A boomerang, which Lalmohanbabu claims always hit a target and came back to the thrower.

8. At each of the marked destinations on the map was a hotel.

9. Chess

10.  Truth is stronger than fiction.

©2010-2012 Feluda.net. All rights reserved.

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Feluda Quiz 1 – Tintorettor Jishu (টিনটোরেটোর যীশু)

This is the first part of a series of trivia quizzes on Feluda films and stories. If you’ve seen the film or read the book Tintorettor Jishu you should be able to answer most of these questions. If you need hints, you may find it useful to read some of the other articles on the film and book here at Feluda.net.

Questions:

1. What was Tintoretto’s actual name?

2. When Rudrashekhar Niyogi presents himself to the Niyogi family, he shows his passport. Which country issued it?

3. Which singer-actor plays the part of Rudrashekhar Niyogi in the film?

4. One of Soumyashekhar Niyogi’s dogs is killed in the film; what was its name and what breed of dog was it?

5. Bhudev Singh of the royal estate of Bhagavangarh wrote the article on Tintoretto’s painting. Where was his article published?

6. Where does Feluda always get his haircut?

7. In what village was the Niyogi household located? Which famous palace was the setting for the Niyogi household in Sandip Ray’s film?

8. At which famous French University did Nabakumar Niyogi (or if you prefer, Robin Choudhury) study Bengali?

9. Who painted Tintoretto’s Jesus for the film?

10. What Hong Kong delicacy did Purnendu Pal offer to treat Feluda, Topshe, and Jotayu to if their mission turned out  successful?

Answers:

1. Jacopo Comin

2. India

3. Shilajit Majumdar

4. Thumri (the other which died a natural death years ago was Kajri). They were both fox terriers in the book and golden retrievers in the film.

5. Bhudev Singh’s article was published in the Illustrated Weekly in the book. Unfortunately, by the time Sandip Ray made the film this periodical had gone out of business. So in the film the article was published in India Today.

6. At Yaseen’s barbershop. You will find this information only in the book.

7. Baikunthapur. The Jhargram Rajbari was used as the setting in the film.

8. At the Sorbonne

9. Sagar Bhoumik, a young Bengali painter from Dum Dum Cantonment

10. Snake soup

©2010-2012 Feluda.net. All rights reserved.

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Tintorettor Jishu: how does the film match up against the book? (টিনটোরেটোর যীশু)

It is Christmas day and a little over a year since Sandip Ray’s film adaptation of Satyajit Ray’s Tintorettor Jishu was released. The reception to the film has been generally positive, although many armchair critics have criticized the film as not living up to their expectations.

A particularly harsh criticism leveled against Sandip Ray’s adaptation is that it is not faithful to the original book. I think this criticism is somewhat unfair with respect to Tintorettor Jishu. Sandip Ray’s film deviates from the plot substantially, but the experience is equally enriching. In order to fully appreciate Sandip Ray’s cinematic version, we need to consider both the book and the film side-by-side.

First, those demanding that the script completely mirror the story must realize that this is impossible. As a friend and I were discussing today, you cannot take a first-person novel narrated by one of the main characters and directly replicate it on the screen. You would be left with a film in which you would see the plot develop in front of Topshe, without actually seeing him in a single frame! Of course, Satyajit Ray didn’t attempt anything like this either.

Now, let me be the first to admit that Tintorettor Jishu is not one of my favorite Satyajit Ray stories. The complex story involves multiple locations, characters, and plot shifts. Reading it recently, I observed that the plot moves primarily through action (and not through dialogue or Topshe’s observation of Feluda’s deductive reasoning like in my favorite Feluda novels). Having expressed my reservations about the book, I’ll mention my thoughts on the film; I think Sandip Ray did an exemplary job converting the book to the big-screen.

I’ll start with the major deviations from the book. Before the credit titles appear on the screen, viewers are shown the character posing as Rudrashankar Niyogi kill Soumyasekhar Niyogi’s dog, Thumri. The book actually starts a little later paralleling the action depicted just after the credits in the film. However, revealing that Rudrashankar Niyogi killed the dog is not the central mystery in the story. The mystery behind who he actually is, is not revealed until later in the film. In fact, even in the book, Rudrashankar Niyogi meets with the art-dealer, Hiralal Somani to discuss his offer for handing over the painting, so readers are well aware of his malicious intent.

More importantly, Sandip Ray maintains the air of suspense around the painting and the suspicious characters in the story. Who is Robin Chowdhury? Why was the dog killed? Who steals the painting? How many forgeries are floating around? These are the questions I focused on while both reading the book and watching the film.

The other major deviation from the book involves the action sequences. Viewers of the film may not remember that even the book has a fair share of fight sequences. Of course, these have been changed somewhat on the screen. The fight between the trio and Somani’s henchmen occurred in an isolated room in the book. Sandip Ray transposed this to a Chinese junk and added Robin Chowdhury to the fracas. To detractors I ask a simple question, “why shoot inside a room, when you can make the scene visually appealing by shooting in Hong Kong Harbour?” I am a big fan of magajastro too, but what a gorgeous, fluid scene!

I think Sandip Ray and his crew have done an exceptional job in creating seamless transitions between the scenes throughout the film (with the sole exception of the unexpected and contrived special-effects storm when the trio first see the painting). Sandip Ray uses the full canvas very intelligently. Why mention that that the character posing as Rudrashekhar Niyogi has an Indian passport, when you can show it to your viewers?

Viewers should also bear in mind the fact that Jotayu had a very limited role in the book. The dialogue between Jotayu and other characters (especially in Hong Kong) has been expanded in the film. I tried to guess which lines were in the book and which were added to the script and often guessed wrongly. Viewers should try this exercise too and they will find that some of the most flawless shifts come from the incidental dialogue in the film.

Like other Feluda connoisseurs, I do have some mixed feelings about the modernized version of Feluda’s world. I miss the old-world charm and dated innocence of Satyajit Ray’s books. Sandip Ray’s Feluda lives in the present. As an example, Haripada’s green Ambassador has given way to a green Santro. The article that Bhudev Singh wrote on Tintoretto Jishu for the Illustrated Weekly of India has become one that he wrote for India Today. Throughout the film, the villains use cell phones.

In Tintoretto Jishu, the framework is not disrupted by these changes, but the transition to modernity is a brave choice. Satayjit Ray’s Feluda solved mysteries before cell phones and the internet. It would, therefore, be a safe choice to stick to those times. But by breaking from the books, Sandip Ray may need to tweak scripts for his future Feluda films so that they fit in with the times.

©2010-2012 Feluda.net. Please seek permission prior to reproducing.

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