The two most iconic detectives of Bangla literature face off against each other with two films releasing on the same day, and both characters played by the same actor!

Few British boys have been named Sherlock by their parents since the beginning of the 20th century. And very few Bengali boys have been named Byomkesh or Felu in the last 50 years. The reason is simple. Sure, all the three are rather uncommon names, but they are immutably associated with three enormously popular fictional detectives. A boy with a name from one of these would be under tremendous pressure all his life!

Of all the sleuths Bengali literature has produced, the two iconic ones are Byomkesh Bakshi, created by Saradindu Bandopadhyay, and Satyajit Ray’s Feluda (Pradosh Chandra Mitter), world-class creations solving mysteries as devilishly plotted as any by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle or Agatha Christie.

Many movies and TV serials have been made on their exploits: Ray has made films featuring both — Chiriyakhana (The Zoo; Byomkesh Bakshi); and Sonar Kella (The Golden Fortress) and Jai Baba Felunath (The Elephant God) featuring Soumitra Chatterjee as Feluda. Byomkesh attained national popularity with the 1993 Doordarshan serial directed by Basu Chatterjee; the show’s reruns still get a healthy viewership, as also on YouTube.

Now Byomkesh and Feluda have gone head to head on the Bengali screen, with two films realeased on Friday, 19 December. And both the characters are played by the same actor, Abir Chatterjee. It’s like a James Bond and a Jason Bourne film releasing on the same day, and Daniel Craig is both Bond and Bourne!

Abir’s first turn as Feluda is in Badshahi Angti (The Emperor’s Ring), directed by Sandip Ray, Satyajit’s son. While he appears for the third time as Byomkesh in singer-director Anjan Dutta’s Byomkesh Phirey Elo (Byomkesh Returns).

Abir Chatterjee as Bymokesh Bakshi Abir Chatterjee as Bymokesh Bakshi

Early next year, Byomkesh hits the big Hindi screen, in Byomkesh Bakshy (note the change in spelling) directed by Dibakar Banerjee with Sushant Singh Rajput playing the role of the suave sleuth. Leading film studio Yash Raj Films and co-producer Banerjee have purchased the film rights of all the 32 Byomkesh stories, in all languages, save Bangla. “The Byomkesh that I show is so fascinating that people from across the country will relate to him,” says Banerjee. “I am confident of Byomkesh’s success and plan to make more screen adaptations of this character.”

A prominent Bollywood production house is said to be planning to purchase the rights for all the 35 Feluda stories penned by Ray to make their screen adaptations in Hindi.

All this is exciting news for Feluda and Byomkesh lovers. “It is great news that a Hindi film is being made on Byomkesh. Byomkesh definitely has a pan-Indian appeal and it is high time this super sleuth is taken beyond Bengal,” says Srikant Mohta, partner of Shree Venkatesh Films which has produced Badshahi Angti.

Feluda fans from beyond Bengal are also keen on watching their favourite investigator in Hindi as well as English. “It would be fascinating to watch an English or Hindi Feluda movie. Many friends of mine who have read English translations of Ray’s Feluda novels have told me so. But of course, Feluda, or Byomkesh for that matter, needs to be handled by a talented director,” said actor and writer Victor Banerjee who divides his time between Mussourie and Kolkata.

Feluda and Topshe Feluda and Topshe

So what is it about Bengalis and crime thrillers? Anjan Dutta says that there is a long history of Bangla writers penning detective thrillers, especially murder mysteries set in zamindari and royal families. “With perhaps the honourable exception of Rabindranath Tagore and a handful of other Bengali writers, all others have dabbled in crime thrillers and detective series. While Feluda and Byomkesh are the most popular ones, other detective characters are also quite interesting. All Bengalis have grown up reading Feluda, Byomkesh and other detective stories and murder mysteries and so, naturally, movies on them are popular,” he says.

Actor Abir Chatterjee, who has played the role of Byomkesh in all the three movies made by Anjan Dutta on the character, is a fan of both the detectives. “I grew up gorging on these fascinating detective stories from childhood. Many of my non-Bengali friends who have read the English versions of these two series are also hooked to them. That’s all thanks to the literary genius, wit and imagination of both Ray and Saradindu Bandopadhyay,” he says.

Badshahi Angti is Sandip Ray’s eighth Feluda film — the previous seven starred veteran Bengali actor Sabyasachi Chakraborty. “I cast Abir because in Badshahi Angti, Feluda is a young person who is yet to become a professional investigator. Abir fit the role perfectly,” he said. … Angti is the second story that Ray wrote featuring Feluda, and the first novel — Feluda is supposed to be 28 years old in the book.

But there is other competition to Byomkesh and Feluda coming up on the Bengali screen soon. Ebaar Sabar (Sabar’s Turn), featuring the detective Sabar Dasgupta, created by popular Bangla writer Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay, is due for release too. Ebaar Sabar is made by actor-turned-director Arindam Sil.

Sabar Dasgupta promises to be quite different from Prodosh Chandra Mitter and Byomkesh Bakshi. For one, he is an assistant commissioner in Kolkata Police’s detective department. The role is played by Saswata Chatterjee. Hindi film viewers will remember him as contract killer Bob Biswas in Kahaani, but the story gets even more interesting here. For, Saswata has played Ajit, Byomkesh’s assistant (and the narrator of the stories) in all three Anjan Dutta films!

“Sabar goes about solving the murder of a girl and the whole of Kolkata stands witness to the exciting public drama that unfolds. Unlike Feluda and Byomkesh, Sabar Dasgupta is someone who can be found among the ranks of real police officers. The movie is also a relationship thriller, not just a whodunit. There are lots of stunts and viewers will find the movie, and Sabar Dasgupta, very interesting,” said Arindam Sil. Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay will pen more Sabar thrillers if he likes the movie. Which he will, says Sil.

Another Bangla thriller with Rahul Bose playing the role of the sleuth released last month but did not do very well. Sondhe Namar Agey (Before Twilight), scripted and directed by Ritabrata Bhattacharya who was a real-life crime reporter, is a realistic crime thriller. The film has a young woman returning to India after her mother’s murder and seeking the help of her old friend Rahul Bose, a former cop who has turned private detective. Rahul’s character is quite unlike that of the cerebral Feluda and Byomkesh and has a dark side too. Undeterred by the tepid box office response his film evoked, Ritabrata says he is in talks with some Hindi film producers for a Hindi adaptation of the movie. And he will serialize the detective thriller.

In 2011, Baishe Srabon (The 22nd of Sravana), a dark mystery about a serial killer who murders on dates associated with the lives of Bengal’s greatest poets (the title refers to the date of Tagore’s death according to the Bengali calendar), was a smash hit, starring Prosenjit Chatterjee as a foul-mouthed alcoholic ex-cop, Parambrata Chatterjee as a police detective investigating the murders, and award-winning director Gautam Ghosh as a mysterious failed poet.

All this is a bit of good news for and from Bengal, which has been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons for many years now. Bengali detectives, albeit fictional ones, on the silver screen across the country, could be one of the few success stories that emanate from this state.

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