Whoever it was among my Bengali Cinema Advisory Team who said “Sandip Ray? Proceed with caution!” was so right. Not all actors can be Soumitra Chatterjee and not all directors can be Satyajit Ray, but my god this movie is terrible. It’s not as bad as Bombaiyer Bombete but that’s really not saying much. I have nothing at all against Sabyasachi Chakraborty as Feluda—nor do I really have a horse in the race of what actors playing Feluda should be like, other than effective as the character, and even then I don’t have the impassioned history with and attachment to Feluda as a character that so many other viewers do*—but Joi Baba Felunath levels of badass he is not. I also loathe the portrayal of Jatayu, who comes off as a moron rather than the sort of naive but not completely incompetent friend in Ray’s own films. As for Topshe…again, not a character I care about at all but each time I see Parambrata Chatterjee I am more convinced that his turn in Kahaani was a one-off stroke of brilliance owing significantly to the writer and director.
What saved this movie from being switched off almost immediately:
1) a jolly assortment of actors I’ve come to know from across earlier decades of Bengali films, including Haradhan Bannerjee (Topshe’s father in the first Feluda), Biplab Chatterjee (who’s a good-for-nothing in another Feluda film), and Dipankar De (most recently seen on my other blog as the hero’s brother in Jana Aranya).
2) Tom Alter, whom I adore, and J. Brandon Hill, who does not impress me but whose career arc is amusing, and
3) the basic setting of the crime Feluda investigates, which is the looting and illegal sale of Indian cultural heritage. This is a topic near to my professional heart and it’s rare to see it depicted in Indian films (or American ones either, for all I know). Even better, much of this movie is actually filmed at Ellora (and a few moments at the Bibi Ka Maqbara in Aurangabad), and it’s so wonderful to see these sites up close that you can block out the clunky line delivery. Of course, you could get the same thrill and none of the annoyance from a good travel video, professional or otherwise.
I’ve spent a lot of energy thinking about Satyajit Ray in the last year, and so far the only thing I genuinely do not like about him is the absence of female characters of any scope or impact (and sometimes even simple presence) in the Goopy Bagha movies and the filmed Feluda stories. In Kailashey Kelenkari there is one named woman, she has one line, and she is utterly unimportant to the main story. In fact, she reads like the low-budget non-musical version of an item girl, a woman plonked down in a story out of nowhere simply to provide “glamor” with glaring irrelevance, which in this case is even more pathetic than what else is going on (she basically sits still for the few seconds she’s on camera). I truly hate this about these films, and I am completely unsatisfied with any explanation I’ve heard for why Ray didn’t seem able to incorporate females into stories for children, especially when he is so good at casting wonderfully talented women and creating female characters who are well-integrated into interesting, full, supportive contexts in his other films. It’s a failure in a person whose intelligence, creativity, and carefulness are otherwise beautiful, thrilling, and inspiring. In the case of Kailashey Kelenkari, it’s another in a long line of problems with the film, but all the others can, I think, be laid at the feet of Sandip Ray. It’s a perfectly good story (though in a bizarrely men-only world), but he can’t do a thing with it.
(Cross-post from Beth Loves Bollywood)
* You know Shashi Kapoor has played Feluda too, don’t you? Oh yes. I haven’t seen it, but you can imagine how badly I want to. Bollyviewer and I scoured the Devon Avenue movie shops for it but no luck.