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Ray Rebooted

Being the son of India’s most reputed filmmaker Satyajit Ray, director Sandip Ray had some pretty big shoes to fill. He has directed more than 12 films, most of which are based on his father’s literary legacy, and he is now set to release his latest film, Badshahi Angti. In conversation with Sagorika Dasgupta, he talks about his father, the kind of films that excite him and the changing face of the Bengali film industry

What made you choose the story of Badshahi Angti to make into a Feluda film?

Feluda is a very popular and widely known detective series in Bengal and many films have been made by me and my father on it. While senior actors like Soumitra Chatterjee and Sabyasachi Chakrabarty have portrayed the iconic character in the past, I thought it was time to reboot the series. So I had to take the audience back to the first story in the series, which was Badshahi Angti, and cast a much younger actor in the role of Feluda. Hence we cast Abir Chatterjee.

Do you think the audience will accept Abir Chatterjee as the new Feluda?

Well, let’s see what happens. Abir has done a commendable job and he looks great as Feluda. No one can predict which way the audience will sway before the film releases.

Why did you decide to reboot the series?

The lead actor Sabyasachi was getting old and we were also running out of stories. In fact Sabyasachi himself suggested that we cast Abir, so that the youth connect was intact. This is Feluda in 2014.

Since you have directed other films in the series, was there any advice you gave him on how to prepare for his role?

My only advice to him was to not watch the earlier films before we went on the floors because I didn’t want him to get influenced by those actors. I wanted him to bring his own nuances to the character. Besides, he grew up with Feluda and loved the character and that comes through in the film. He is intense and at the same time he is a much younger Feluda. So I think he looked really fresh in the role. He is different from actors like Soumitro and Sabyasachi because he is much younger. He is just starting out as a detective in the film, so he hasn’t got a pistol or an identity card, and is surrounded by elders. It is a totally new avatar.

Abir also plays another detective in Begali films, that of Byomkesh Bakshi.

Moreover, both the detective films, Byomkesh Phire Elo and Badshahi Angti, are releasing on the same day (December 19).

I know. And that is a very unique experience. I am already amazed by that. Luckily for us, this is Abir’s last film as Byomkesh. After that, he is free of that part. Now he is concentrating only on portraying Feluda. Or at least I hope so!

Sometimes, the problem with adapting a book or a story is that the audience is already aware of the story. Will you be introducing any new elements to the film?

Feluda is a very widely read novel. In Bengal, we have grown up on these books and students read them to date. But in terms of newness, the story itself is so gripping that I didn’t want to change anything. What I have done is focus on locations like Lucknow and Patna. We have used a different texture for cinematography. There is newness also in terms of cast and production design. The Lucknow my father had mentioned while writing these books was very different from the Lucknow of today. Fortunately, all the places he had mentioned are heritage sites which have been conserved, like the Bara Imambara or the Bhool Bhulaiya. We were able to shoot seamlessly at these places and we had no problems recreating the city. It all seems like a leaf out of my father’s book. Despite the character being set in 2014, I have not tampered with the storyline, with any technological advancements or gadgetry like you see in other detective films these days. The story is sacrosanct among its loyal readers and I didn’t want to make many changes.

Dibaker Banerjee is remaking Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! in Hindi. Would you like to see a Hindi version of Feluda too or would you like to direct it in Hindi yourself?

I wouldn’t want to remake Feluda in Hindi because I prefer to stick to Bengali films. I am not comfortable with the language, which is the main issue. To me, Feluda is essentially a very Bengali character but if someone else wants to remake the film in Hindi, I wouldn’t object. Of course, I would be very cautious about the competence of the director.

You have adapted many of your father’s works. How do you decide which story to make into a film?

Most of his stories are very visual. He was a filmmaker and filmmaking is a very visual medium. Most of his stories were written with a meticulous attention to detail. He was a visual writer and his stories are like scripts. When you read his books, you feel like you are watching a film. I picked his Feluda series in particular because not only are they very visual in their storytelling, they are also bundled with the element of mystery, thrill and excitement. The locales of some of these stories are more exciting than the others. It’s almost like solving a puzzle! His stories also have an educational aspect. After this film, the next in the series is a story called Gangtoke Gondogol (Trouble In Gangtok). If this film clicks, the logical decision will be to make a film on that story.

Which is more creatively satisfying – directing your own ideas or adapting one of your father’s works? What other subjects do you have in mind?

I have made one film based on my own idea but adapting a story is more exciting because they have such a vast narrative. I love adapting stories and borrowing from novels and literary classics. I don’t know what story I will come up with next because I am busy with the post-production of my film at the moment. There’s another character of my father, Professor Shonku, who is a scientist, and the story is based on a science fiction subject. It intrigues me and I really want to make a film on this. I wanted to make the film quite a while ago but I didn’t have the equipment I required. However, technology has grown by leaps and bounds and taking a leap in imagination on screen through special effects has become easy.

How difficult is it to fill your father’s shoes?

(Laughs) I don’t think about things like that. If I do, I will not be able to make films. I will keep making films and trying to make them as well as possible.

Are there any aspects of filmmaking that you have leant from your father?

Yes, of course. I began my career as a still photographer on his films. Then I joined his unit as an assistant director. So I have learnt everything I know from him, watching his films and watching other good films. I watched a lot of world cinema which was not easily available in those days. The filmmakers of today have better access to these films through restored DVDs and Blu-ray discs. But he was my mentor.

Was he the same man on the sets as he was at home?

More or less. He had the same command at home and on the set. People looked up to him and he was the captain of the ship. He was the same at home too. He was just as passionate about cinema at home or anywhere else. The large part of his unit comprised people he was really fond of. Most of them are now gone and I still have two of his assistants who are working in the directorial department. Both of them are still fit and they maybe old but are so young at heart.

Criterion is planning to release the restored versions of Satyajit Ray’s old films and making them available to the audience. Your thoughts?

They are doing a brilliant job. They have come up with the digitally restored version of the Jalsaghar (The Music Room), Mahanagar (The Big City) and Charulata. These three films look marvelous after being restored. Now they plan to restore Apu’s Trilogy. They know how my father would have wanted quality to be maintained in his movies and they are maintaining those standards.

Your thoughts on Bengali cinema and the changes it’s been through. Has it become better or worse?

It has definitely become better. We are making about 200 films a year. There is so much experimentation and so many genres that are being exploited. So there’s a lot of interesting stuff happening. The audience has changed too. they have become more accepting of new ideas, and the best thing is that they are stepping out to watch films. This is a good sign because cinema halls have improved in sound and picture quality. At one point, no one was going to cinemas but that has changed. It’s a crucial time now and I hope it stays that way. A lot of newcomers are coming up with exceptionally interesting ideas and films. But we need more multiplexes to distribute these films in.

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