The private detective genre of films and stories is catnip for most Bengalis. Having grown up reading novels about private detectives like Saradindu Bandopadhyay’s Byomkesh, Satyajit Ray’s “Feluda” series of novels, or even to some extent, Sunil Gangopadhyay’s “Kakababu” series of novels (though they skew more towards the adventure bent), most Bengalis’ appetite for films tends to fall towards that same genre. As a result, the film grammar of any of these adaptations is irrelevant. As long as the screenplay of those movies follows the books (the more faithful the adaptation, the better) and as long as the actor portrays the character as approximately close to the book’s version, you will always have a cadre of the audience ready to watch said adaptations.
The long preamble could be summed up in a single line: The “Feluda” adaptations are critic-proof. Audiences are going to watch these movies and TV shows, and irrespective of whether they like this version of this adaptation or not, they will still watch the next one. Because those texts are almost sacrosanct and will always elicit at least a mild form of curiosity from anyone. Srijit Mukherji adheres to the first aspect of the letter, as his “Feluda” adaptations – 2020’s “Feluda Pherot” Season 1 and now 2022’s “Feludar Goyendagiri” (or “The Feluda Files”) Season 1 – are almost slavishly faithful adaptations of the short stories on which the entire season is based. The second aspect is followed by me and even the most cynical of viewers who have grown up reading the Feluda novels or watched the two Satyajit Ray-directed adaptations (“The Golden Fortress” AKA Sonar Kella and “The Elephant God” AKA Jay Baba Felunath).
Having viewers irrespective of criticism doesn’t take away from the critical aspect. The almost unparalleled reverence and love Bengalis have for Darjeeling, the hill station, stopped becoming novel almost a decade ago. At this point, the location only contributes to attrition towards an adaptation, especially for a viewer like me, having grown up in North Bengal and having lived near these areas throughout my life and thus having significantly lower nostalgia.
The good news, though, is that “Feludar Goyendagiri” is not the Darjeeling tour bus of the 80s. Darjeeling, though, holds significant weight in the Feluda canon, as Feluda’s first case, from which the show’s name derives, takes place in Darjeeling. And while the show itself acknowledges that in a passing interaction between the characters, this season is adapted from the second story taking place in Darjeeling called Darjeeling Jawmjamat. It would be safe to say that the story itself is a reasonably fine one, but not one of the best. This has been the pattern for these Srijit Mukherji adaptations, as even Chinnomostar Obhishaap, the source material for Feluda Pherot, was reasonably good source material. Unlike “Feludar Goyendagiri,” though, “Feluda Pherot” was a significant uptick because Mukherji managed to translate the suspense of the source material to the screen far more effectively.
Here, the first three episodes of the six-episode season are mostly set up, and a very weak one at that. Feluda (Tota Roychoudhury) and his two comrades, Topshe (Kalpan Mitra) and Lalmohan Ganguly (Anirban Chakrabarti), are invited to Darjeeling to rendezvous with a film crew. The director of the film, Pulak Ghoshal, was a childhood friend of Ganguli’s and is adapting one of Ganguli’s mystery novels into a blockbuster genre picture. The shooting is taking place at Nayanpur Villa, the home of Birupakka Majumder, the now-retired ex-manager of Bengal Bank with a mysterious past, who soon gets murdered. Now Feluda must get to the bottom of this mysterious death with a suspect pool that encompasses the inhabitants of that mansion as well as the entire film crew.
The first three episodes show Feluda and his team arriving, their interactions with the film crew, as well as the shooting of the film itself, which is shown almost as a parody of 80s mainstream films. In that regard, Mukherji follows the book as the author itself takes jabs at the industry he was cognizant of. However, the travelog aspect of the story rears its head throughout, and thus the show suffers from what most recent adaptations of detective novels have been. There is a serious lack of tension and a very mechanical bent to the proceedings as the narrative progresses. This stagnancy leads to serious bloat in the narrative.
However, when the case begins, Feludar Goyendagiri becomes comparatively tighter. There are interesting technical flourishes that Srijit utilizes here—a long take following Feluda and the police commissioner as they are climbing up the stairs and finally arriving at the crime scene; or the camera panning slowly in which the interrogation of the suspects is spliced into one single scene; or the final drone shot following a car chase through the twisting roads of the Pankahabari lane in Darjeeling. These are moments of visual uniqueness in a mostly stagnant narrative, which manages to bring some amount of freshness to the whole proceeding. There are still moments of the camera luxuriating on a view of Kanchenjunga or a view of the mountains through the ropeway, and while that is aesthetically pleasing, it also begs the question of whether the season needed to be a show, or could it have worked as a crisp 90-minute film? Also, do we need the predominant yellow filter to remind us that this is a period piece when the world-building is done so subtly in the screenplay? Be it through dialogues that inform viewers that this is taking place in 1986, or through visuals like posters of the Gorkhaland movement stuck on the walls when Topshe and Feluda are walking and conversing about the case.
The big distinctive feature of the show is the casting. Tota Roychowdhury as Pradosh C. Mitter or Feluda feels like the sleuth has leapt off the page. He is as deft with wordplay as he is at exhibiting a modicum of swagger without coming off as flamboyant. Kalpan Mitra, as Tapesh or Topshe, works better when he is working off Roychoudhury’s Feluda. As a single entity or acting alongside Chakrabarti’s Ganguli, he doesn’t leave an impression. The miscast of the lot is Anirban Chakrabarti as Lalmohan Ganguli, and part of the reason is Chakrabarti’s overexposure as popular sleuth Eken Babu, which in itself feels like a distant cousin of Ganguli. As a result, his portrayal of the character doesn’t feel any different from his portrayal of Eken. Thus, the comedic moments and dialogues fall flat.
I had approached “Feludar Goyendagiri” with mild curiosity and a healthy amount of trepidation. Having delved into most of Srijit Mukherji’s filmography, I can safely say that while this doesn’t reach the heights of his earlier work, it also doesn’t fall into the absolute bowels of ineptitude like REKKA. “Feludar Goyendagiri” suffers from the typical stagnancy emblematic of most outings of Hoichoi, but there is enough here to warrant a look by fans of the genre as well as the sleuth himself.
“Feludar Goyendagiri” is a 2022 Indian Drama Thriller series directed by Srijit Mukherji.