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Lately, I’ve been sifting through thousands of photographs of bald men with moustaches. Every day, my mailbox is inundated with envelopes containing these. Some of them have forced comical expressions; others stare clownishly into the camera. Word has got around that I’m on the lookout for a ‘Jotayu’ (the fictional crime writer in the Feluda series)—sadly, no one seems to have grasped what Jotayu is all about. He’s not a comic character, but a sensitive, intelligent man. Yes, there’s a physical type: he has to be short, about 5’5’’, compared to Feluda, who is over six. My only criterion is the actor has to be bloody good with timing. I’m desperate to find the perfect one. And until I do, I won’t make another Feluda film.
Anyway, I consciously avoid making Feluda films too close to one another. The audience should crave for the next instalment, and I too should start missing it. Double Feluda came in 2016, as part of the Fifty Years of Feluda celebrations, so there won’t be one in 2017. We may work on the script or plan the shoots, but it won’t be made before 2018. That, too, provided I find the right Jotayu.
I haven’t yet planned what I will do this year. An interesting offer is on the table. If I do accept it, it will be a totally new medium for me—a web series, live streaming, maybe a set of three shorts, with no time constraints. I’m seriously pondering the pros and cons. Selecting the stories is the less difficult part. Bengali literature is a goldmine and I have a library of hundreds of books from my father’s time. Between films, I spend most of my time here, reading through the night, visualising stories cinematically. The subject could be anything, even a ghost story.
The more challenging bit is technological. Such films are watched on a wide range of digital mediums and should be compatible for viewing on the tiniest of mobile screens to the most advanced computer or LCD TV. Earlier, we could actually hold a film in our hands, now it’s intangible. Those from another era, like my father, missed experiencing this strange vanishing of a kind of reality and reappearance as another. Those born into it and therefore not awed by it, like my son, can’t fathom the sheer depth of the change. I want to know where this will go. We still watch Chaplin. Will digital films, compatible with a specific application, survive?
Most of my travel revolves around films...location hunting, recces, shooting. And of course, film festivals. I’m not much of a sightseeing, touristy kind of person. I prefer to be in Calcutta, sitting at my desk. And if I go anywhere, I long to return to my comfort zone. Some point out that this is an inheritance from my father. Whatever time I do get on travels, I scour bookshops, looking for rare collections of books, CDs and DVDs. Recently, I hunted down a McDonald’s so I wouldn’t have to try out the local cuisine in a foreign city known for its fish! (“But you’re Bengali,” someone protested. Well, yes, just not a fish-eating one.)
Last month, we went to Hong Kong...amongst the most visually exciting places in the world! Not as organised as Singapore, but with a strange magnetism. Most of my memories are of quaint, obscure little towns—Valladoli in Spain, Setubal in Portugal, beautiful, quiet, serene. We walked a lot. Europe has a special mystique for me. And if you’re a film buff, there’s no place like Hollywood. LA has some of the most intriguing bookstores. The only other Indian city I can think of living in besides Calcutta is Chennai. Not Mumbai, certainly not Delhi. Chennai is one of the most advanced places for post-production—I go there for all my films. The people are wonderful, very dedicated and hard-working.
I don’t think I’d like to make a film in a language other than Bengali. With English, there’s a slight possibility...I get its nuances. But certainly not Hindi. My father had a rare command and he did Shatranj Ke Khiladi with all the precision he’s known for. And he had a set of Hindi’s best actors—from Om Puri to Amjad Khan. But if I were to make a Hindi film and, say, an actor got stuck and didn’t know how to deliver his dialogues and asked me, I would be as blank as him!
(Sandip Ray is a Calcutta-based film-maker)