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Friday, March 13, 2009

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Bowing to overwhelming popular demand (2 comments on the previous post!), a piece on the greatest thriller writer in Bengali is now mandated.

Creator of a detective with superhuman abilities (Prakhar Rudro), his works like Durdhorsho Dushman (Awesome Adversary), Saharai Shihoron (Sahara Shivers), Honduras-ey Hahakar (Honduras Horrors), Vancouver-er Vampire (needs no translation!) have not only topped bestseller lists in multiple editions, at least two of them have also been made into films.
The later one – Karakoramey Rokto Kar? (the alliteration getting lost in translation as Whose Blood in Karakoram) – had the author himself in a bit part. The title of the first one – Bombaiyer Bombetey (Buccaneer of Bombay) – was used by renowned film director, Satyajit Ray, for his own novel recounting the adventures of this author as he tagged along with Pradosh C Mitter and Tapesh Ranjan Mitter in Bollywood.
Ladies and gentlemen, it is Calcutta Chromosome’s honour and privilege to present Lalmohan Gangopadhyay a.k.a Jatayu.

Essentially, a good soul who is not very fluent in English and gets intimidated very easily – despite writing aggressive thrillers – Jatayu’s malapropisms are legendary. To report a tiger missing from a circus, he says “The circus which escaped from the Great Majestic Tiger…
When a Marathi police officer asks if he is indeed Mr Ganguly, he exclaims – “Hnayes!
And when a rude client enquires about his credentials, he self-effacingly mumbles, “Ami… maney… keu na!

Satyajit Ray wrote his Feluda novels like a screenplay, complete with notes for art direction and sometimes even for would-be actors!
In Joto Kando Kathmandu-tey, Lalmohanbabu enters the Casino for the first time looking rather dapper in his newly acquired corduroy trousers and green jerkin. After collecting his tokens, he starts down the stairs inspecting them closely. A Japanese lady is walking up, counting her winnings. A collision is avoided when Topshe tugs him away at the last minute. Lalmohanbabu looks up and apologises with a nervous giggle – “He-he-hexcuse-me-hi-hi-hi”. You have to stand up and applaud this element of detail.

In Gorosthaney Shabdhan, the trio attempts to enter a suspect’s house (to spy on his séance session). The watchman stops them. Feluda ad-libs, “Tomar maliker ek bondhur opor shondeho, bhai. Amra pulisher lok.” Points to Lalmohan-babu and says, “Ini daroga.Lalmohanbabu payer buro anguley dnariye height-takey tuk korey 2 inchi bariye nilen!

Lalmohanbabu’s bete noire is obviously the dreaded Maganlal Meghraj. The first time (Joi Baba Felunath), Jatayu was a knife-thrower’s target. The second time (Joto Kando Kathmandu-tey), Jatayu was given a dose of LSD.
They met for a lesser known third time – again in Benaras – during the Golapi Mukto Rahasya. In a hilariously described scene, Maganlal gets Lalmohanbabu to sing a song! For a full five minutes, Jatayu sings ‘Aloker ei jharnadharai’ while Maganlal reclines on his bolsters and keeps rhythm on his cash box.

His love for knowledge and trivia is well-known but of course, he is not beyond a few aptly placed errors, even when he is saving the day. In Dr Munshi-r Diary, the missing link is a manuscript (the titular diary, by the eponymous Doctor!), which is supposed to be published by Penguin. Feluda manages to identify the killers but the diary had been destroyed by then. “Spotlight!”, screams Jatayu. He had photocopied the manuscript since he could not finish it in one day and even spells out the life-saving invention – “X.E.R.O.X.” and exhorts the dead man’s secretary to hand it over to the publisher. “Nin, typing shuru korey din. Shesh holei shoja North Pole.” Nice. Except that Penguins are not there in the North Pole, only South!

Lalmohanbabu’s moment of glory comes during Bombaiyer Bombetey, when he reaches Bollywood as the story-writer for a (eventually) Chuni Pancholi production – Jet Bahadur! Ray’s poor regard for the masala filmmaker comes through repeatedly in the motif of Codopyrine (a strong headache reliever) and Jatayu reveals a rather aggressive side of his personality when he reviews the earlier film of director Pulak Ghoshal, who is making Jet Bahadur.
The name of the film is Tirandaaz. And in the interval, Jatayu sighs – “Gadpar-er chheley, tui eto din ei korey chul pakali? Proti bochhor pujor shomoi parai ekta korey theatre korto… Joddur money porchhey B Com fail… tar kachh thekey aar ki asha kora jai, bolo?” And finally, decides to keep a brave face – “Keu jiggesh korley boley debo first class! Poketey korkorey takagulo na thakley shottii bhengey portam, Topesh!

Lalmohanbabu has a penchant for dedicating his books to famous people connected – however tenuously – to the plot!
His Meru Mahatanka was dedicated to the ‘Memory of Robert Scott’, Gorilla-r Gogrash to the ‘Memory of David Livingstone and Anabik Danob (maximum gnaja, according to Feluda!) to the ‘Memory of Albert Einstein’. He goofed up big time when he dedicated his Himalay-ey Hritkompo to the ‘Memory of Sherpa Shiromoni Tenzing Norgay’.
Feluda was livid. “Apni jolo-jyanto loktakey merey fellen?” Lalmohanbabu mumbled, “Onekdin kagojey naam taam dekhini. Ora to shob shomoi paharey taharey chorchhen. Bhablam, hoito paa-taa horkey giye…

The absolute best Jatayu scene – in my humble opinion – is not from any of the books but from the film, Shonar Kella. It is the introduction scene of Jatayu and with the entry of Santosh Dutta, the character was redefined forever. From then on, Ray even changed the illustrations in his novels to make the paper character resemble the celluloid one.
Lalmohan-babu enters Feluda’s compartment in Kanpur Junction, waves off his coolie in an imperious manner, introduces himself in classical Bong-Hindi and attaches himself to the problem-solving duo. No amount of description can bring alive this landmark scene but I have to try.
He reveals himself as a hugely prolific writer: “Up to date 27 kahani likkhi (sic) hain…
And popular too: “All published. Bahut janapriya…
Tries to place Feluda from memory: “Apni ki shnataru? English Channel?
Gets put in his place by Feluda: “Dhakuria Lake!
Asks Feluda’s physical dimensions: “Apnar chhati koto, moshai?
Then quotes popular literature: “26? Apni ki shuor?
Brags about his novel: “6-ta edition!
But is told: “Saat-ey shudhrey deben…
And you know the best part about this list? Everybody can have his/her own set of eight!

UPDATED TO ADD: Completely forgot to put in one more favourite - from Joi Baba Felunath (the film). Apart from a brilliant sequence with Gunomoy Bagchi (a bodybuilder!), there is a cute exchange in which the hotel manager speaks about a new holy man, who has arrived in Benares. "Machhli baba. Shobaikey uni ekta montroputo sholko den...". Jatayu is stumped. "Sholko?" Feluda butts in. "Apnar Gyanpith foshkey gelo..."


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