By Utpal Borpujari
It is not easy to convert a iconic fictional character into another format, especially if the original creator has himself not only written a large number of stories surrounding it but also made sketches of him and even made more than one feature film based on these stories.
But illustrator Tapas Guha and children’s author Subhadra Sen Gupta took up the gauntlet to do exactly that, in their case the subject being Satyajit Ray’s ever-popular detective character Feluda, which has long transcended regional boundaries thanks to English translations of the original Bengali stories as well as television series based on the stories in Hindi.
The result is a new series of Feluda Mysteries comic books, the first two of which hit the stands sometime back. Feluda was a character created by Ray to cater to a readership that could be in the age range of anywhere between teenagers to old people. And the way the stories have been lapped up by generations of people in Bengal and elsewhere is proof of the immense and enduring popularity of the Feluda stories. Readers decade after decade have fallen for the rakish charm of the detective as well as his companion characters – young cousin Topshe and friend Lalmohan Ganguli who writes crime stories with the pen name Jatayu.
The first time people outside the Bengali-speaking world became aware about the character when Ray made Sonar Kella (The Golden Fort), rated among one of the best children’s films to be made in India. Since then, Feluda has reached out to the outside world, thanks to English translations of the stories. And now, thanks to Guha and Sen Gupta’s effort, Feluda has entered the world of comic books too. Published by Puffin, the children’s book imprint of Penguin, the first two comic books – A Bagful of Mystery and Beware in the Graveyard – are based on the stories Baksho Rohosyo and Gorasthane Sabdhan. These will be followed by three more in the near future – Murder by the Sea, The Killers of Kathmandu and Danger in Darjeeling.
“Daunting”, “nervous”, “panic” are the words bandied about by the Sen Gupta and Guha when one asks them about their first reaction when they were approached to do the comic strip, which first appeared in a Kolkata-based English daily five years ago. But an approval by Ray’s filmmaker son Sandip Ray of their sketches helped cool the nerves. And now that they are out with the first two comic books of the series, the illustrator-artiste duo, which has won quite a few awards jointly for their work, including the White Raven at award at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair in Italy for three consecutive years, is a bit relaxed.
As they look forward to the reaction from readers to Guha’s visual interpretation of the character as well as Sen Gupta’s script that has stuck to the original literature, the two are ready to discuss the finer nuances of the prestigious project. “It was a mix of delight and panic when the offer to do the series came. Feluda is our favourite detective and we felt very honoured but also got an attack of nerves because this was Satyajit Ray! Fortunately Sandip Ray approved of what we did as sample pages,” recalls Sen Gupta about her first reaction to the idea. “I felt pretty nervous in the beginning, but at the same time we were confidant as it was going to be our interpretation of Feluda,” she says, even as Guha says that as an artist his first thought was that it should be “clean, uncluttered, colorful story telling, and not depressing and confusing story telling”.
Going by the fact that Ray himself had illustrated Feluda’s character to go with his stories, the two devised their own ways to give their own touch to the idea. Guha based his drawings on Ray’s creations but did it in his own style, something he explains such, “Everyone’s style is like handwriting, it is very difficult to change or copy.” Sen Gupta, meanwhile, stuck to what Ray wrote, only occasionally – and very rarely – changing a location to make it visually more interesting. Ray, whose writing is as visually rich as his movies are, made it easier for them, as Sen Gupta found herself quite at home while visualizing the frames based on which she developed her script. “We have tried to keep the backdrops interesting, while the dialogues almost remain same as in the original stories,” she says.
Guha, a self-taught artist, brought in his own little touches to the presentation, by, for example, introducing a few female characters here and there – Ray’s originals are famous for not having any female character of note – without affecting the storyline. While Sen Gupta looked at the storyline through the eyes of Topshe, who is the narrator of all the Feluda stories, Guha took the biggest pleasure in illustrating the colourful character of Lalmohan / Jatayu.
As far as the reaction from those who have read the original stories in Bengali go, the two appear quite satisfied, particularly since the stories allow the readers to develop their own images in mind while the comic books would make the reader take in whatever the creators present. Sen Gupta puts it this way, “So far the feedback has been very good, especially from kids. Also kids who have not read Feluda before are being introduced to him and I hope they will read the novels next.” Guha makes a practical point, “If there are a million readers, there will be a million different visual interpretations. If we start worrying about that, we won’t be able to do even a single frame.” Both of them have one wish though – to see the comic books getting translated to other languages. “It should come out in other languages too. For me, Feluda is regionless, timeless, ageless,” says Guha.
(Published in Deccan Herald, www.deccanherald.com, www.deccanheraldepaper.com, 13-12-2009)