Badshahi Angti is more of a travelogue than a whodunit sans a devilish plot or counterplot. As Ray's theme music fills the air, you know what it takes to enter the realm of children's fantasy;
Feluda's holiday at Dhirukaka's residence in Lucknow with cousin Topshe is interrupted when neighbour Dr Srivastava's badshahi angti goes missing. The suspects are many — is it the doctor himself or Mahavir, son of Pyarelal, who gifted him the ring? Is it the animal-loving Bonobihari Sarkar or his suspicious aide Ganesh Guha? Or a demon in the guise of a sadhu? Can Prodosh C Mitter aka Feluda break into the ring of crime?
Once Santosh Dutta and Jatayu became synonymous — like an organic whole — it made Satyajit Ray rethink. No, not so much about the character, which Dutta had already embraced with wholesome inwardness, but about his appearance in Ray's sketches that accompanied the stories. After Dutta's untimely death, the master filmmaker remarked that there could be no further Feluda movies as Jatayu could not be thought of without Dutta. Much later, when Sandip Ray took it upon himself to reboot the series for the big screen, he found his Jatayu in Bibhu Bhattacharya. But again, Sandip was left with a broken heart and creases on his forehead after the continuity of the series got disrupted when Bhattacharya passed away suddenly. So Sandip turned the clock further back in the Feluda canon and chose to revamp the franchise once again with Badshahi Angti, the first Feluda book. And in doing so, he had two challenges at hand — pass the baton successfully from an elderly Feluda to a younger one in the making, and engage the audience without Jatayu's comic relief.
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First thing first, in the midst of the lost-and-found case of a badshahi angti, once worn by Aurangzeb, is a man of sharp intellect, careless composure and superb deductive reasoning. That in the film he says he still works with a bank makes the actor inhabiting his space more believable as a first-time Feluda. For a generation of fanciful children, who could smell crime in soggy socks and dirty school dresses, Feluda might bring back memories of a man now in his 80s, but Abir Chatterjee does make a fine start. The 'Topshe speakti not' line is still what he mouths, a cigarette still dangles casually from his lips, but he doesn't mind sipping a hot cuppa at CCD as he sits back to piece together a puzzle — who could have stolen the ring? And why did Pyarelal Seth, the original owner of the ring utter 'spy/spi' before dying of a heart attack? As the old-world charm blends with today's complexities to make for a perfect infusion, you can clearly feel that Feluda has been updated. Slipping in and out of his own shoes as an actor, Abir makes an effort to prove a point, but that there's an effort to break away from another sleuth's mould — he had almost become a master of that — is apparent.
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But it's Sourav Das as Topshe who gets buried under the colossal weight of his character's past. In his eyes, there's no real intrigue; no childish idea of having fun. All that shows up is a sense of forced wonderment. Sans the inquisitive and often funny tagalongs to bumble behind him, as Abir takes on the task of unveiling the mystery on his own, Sandip rallies around support with some brilliant character actors. So, be it Biswajit Chakraborty (Dhirukaka), Dipankar De (Topshe's father), Rajatava Dutta (Ganesh Guha), Tathagata Mukherjee (Mahavir) or Bharat Kaul (Dr Srivastava), they go beyond the greasepaint to look every bit the characters they play. A special mention must be made of Paran Bandopadhyay as the snake-loving Bonobihari Sarkar.
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But what makes more noise than the hiss of Bonobihari's favourite rattlesnake all through the movie is another character called Lucknow. Sirsha Ray's camera weaves a tapestry of images as Felu & Co. take on the task of unravelling the simplistic plot of good vs evil. The chalk marks on the dim walls of the Bhool Bhulaiya, the tonga rides, the chase down the alleyways and even a close shot of the juicy galawti kebabs turn the celluloid journey into an experience in itself. The self- engrossed bathers on the ghats of Haridwar bring back memories of Joi Baba Felunath, reflecting more on the Indian faith than bare bodies — deep-seated and unwavering — that Ray himself took keen interest in.
is more of a travelogue than a whodunit sans a devilish plot or counterplot. As Ray's theme music fills the air, you know what it takes to enter the realm of children's fantasy; it's the reminder of an era when Feluda was still Felu, when evil could be defeated by good, when kids didn't need to observe silence in the memory of their friends in another part of the globe — when the world was still a better place to live in.
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