The cover of the novel based on the film Sonar Kella, (The Golden Fortress, 1973)

Sandip Ray has always battled the distinction of being the only son of a world-renowned master of cinema. Perhaps it goes to the skewed and myopic understanding of culture in this part of the world that considers the son of a world master blessed with similar distinctions. But Sandip Ray, a Bhadrolok to boot, has handled the pressures of such absurd expectation despite being in the same sphere of art as his legendary father. And his calibre and confidence as a filmmaker only gain in strength from the fact that he has successfully been able to hold on to the franchise of Feluda. So the success of the latest Feluda Gorosthane Sabdhan pleases him no end. “I am very happy with the reports and the feedback. We are just into the second week and already the trends are very heartening.” For most, the latest Feluda outing is as good as Bombaiyer Bombete, the first Feluda that Sandip Ray made for the big screen. “Yes, that’s one comparison that makes me feel proud. See, when Bombaiyer Bombete, was released, the fact of Feluda’s return was itself a box office draw. The novelty factor was there. And people wanted to see how we had managed to contemporize him, without trivialising his intelligence and his acumen. But since then, the novelty factor has been secondary to the plot and making of the film. That people have taken that into account and have flocked to the films, again and again, is a fact I am very thankful about.” 

The franchise is not a popular thing in India. We have inspirations and we have shameless imitations. At best we do official remakes. In the West, the franchise idea is in custody of the gigantic studios who own the rights to superhero and super-animation franchises and they put in every bit of their wealth of resource and reach into churning out franchise movies every summer. If this year we have Batman, the next summer is reserved for James Bond and the third for the Return of Superman. But here without any of those muscles and money and with no producer having the gall of backing a franchise, Ray has managed to make four Feluda films in seven years. Often referred to as Feluda 2.0 to mark the improved technical virtuosity of his series as different from the two Feluda films made by his father, Sandip Ray has nevertheless managed to get both critical and popular acclaim for his Feluda series. His biggest strength in the remake is to have given Feluda a touch of contemporariness without making eye-popping changes in the script and texture of the stories. Such changes, he insists may not have sat well with the average Bengali audiences retention of the stories written and set during the late sixties and early seventies. “It took me twenty years to convince a producer to bring back Feluda to the big screen. Amazing. They claimed that there is no demography for films like that. Children enjoy different kind of movies and adult viewers want the usual song and dance routine. What is a film where there are not even women, leave glamour. I failed to impress upon them the universality of Feluda. Finally, it was Ramoji Rao, a Telegu producer who came ahead to produce a Feluda film. I believe the Bengali professionals working at his facility in Hyderabad impressed upon him the need to make a Feluda film.” But now there must be a queue outside his house of producers because all his Feluda films have been able to return the money to the producer. “Oh yes”, Ray says with a smile. “Now there is virtually a queue. Someone even suggested I made two Feluda films a year. Tell me is that possible. Making a Feluda film is not easy. The locations have to be spot on. Readers remember the minutest details from his stories. A bad Feluda film will bring in the usual first-week viewers but then if they found out that it’s a bad film, you had it. It will tank at the box office and I will stand with not one but multiple guns pointed at me for messing with cultural heritage”, he says with a hearty but sincere laugh. “I cannot afford to do a bad Feluda film. I have to give in my best. That’s why I have decided to do a Feluda film every alternate year.” 

So it means that the next Feluda film will be shot next year? And is it the long waited Joto Kando Kathmandute? “Well, it will be shot next year so it will only hit theatres the year after. But I am still to take a call between JKK and Royal Bengal Rohosya, which is a personal favourite. JKK is what attracts both me and Sabyasachi (Chakraborty, who plays Feluda). We have done it before for television. But television is a very limited medium, both financially and in the sense of its scopophilic appeal. The big screen is magic. So we are both keen to do it for the big screen. Let’s see. We have to take a call soon.” 

His Feluda series is more successful but his other outings, though few have also been able to attract a lot of attention. From his award-winning Fatikchand to the complex and eerie Nishijapon, Ray has also shown a keen insight into human frailties. And yes, unlike Feluda, his other films do have women in them and sometimes adult themes and even murder and revenge. “I have decided that I will alternate one Feluda with a non-Feluda movie. Change of taste is necessary. And I have various films in mind. Let me see. Maybe in a couple of months, I will be able to announce a new movie.”

But Feluda is not his only way to carry on the legacy of his father. Sandip Ray can take the credit for being an archivist par excellence, a practice that has little peers in India or Calcutta. We celebrate everything, we dote on our cultural pride and response but we manage to retain and preserve very few of it for posterity. Our film reels rot in weeded archives, our artworks scrap away in locked rooms, our music gets choked in forlorn chambers. Ray has not allowed the great lived and art heritage of his father to go to waste. The Ray society that he has helped found has done a magnificent job in restoring and digitizing most of the paperwork — the posters, cards, publicity material, screenplays and the delightful kheror khata, his father’s personal, artistic diary.” I am happy with the work done until now. I am blessed to have a few involved and gifted people who have come together to help me in this endeavour. Almost the entire paperwork has been archived. Now his books, music and stuff are being catalogued. Eventually, I want to set up a centre of research on Satyajit Ray. It will contain everything he ever created and there will be ample scope to do research and work on him. But for that we need a lot of logistic support, a reasonably located venue and good funds. In two years, hopefully, we will be in a position to concretise the plan. But work is on.” 

Though his father’s work is in safe hands, another family legacy, the family magazine Sandesh, he rues, is a bit neglected. “I am not able to spend the amount of time on Sandesh that I would like to. I am very unhappy about the fact that Sandesh has not been able to get back to its pre-eminent position. But running a magazine is a tough job and I wish I had more time in my hand for Sandesh.”

He saw Feluda taking birth in the hands of his father in the great filmmaker’s famous room in Bishop Lefroy Road and since Feluda has been with him, and has now taken a life of its own in his own hands. Sandip Ray feels responsible for the fate of Feluda and the ace detective is his best preoccupation among many others. “I wish Sabyasachi stays fit for at least two more Feluda films. He is the only one who can do justice to the role. But he has to stay fit. We are all growing old but unlike me, unlike us, he can still be seen on screen. So he has to keep fit and fine. If he does so, I am sure we can do two more Feluda films together.”

We wish too. Because like Feluda, we would never want to grow old. Never. And Sandip Ray is one who can ensure that we don’t.