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Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Info Post
Female characters in Feluda stories form a strange topic – almost non-existent yet heavily discussed. In an interview about the recently launched Feluda comics, the illustrator mentioned that the lack of women in the setting was so stark that he made sure that there was enough female presence in the surroundings. Passersby, diners in a restaurant, shoppers were all made female in the comic book.
This is in direct contrast to Ray’s films, where female characters not only held centrestage for many of them, they were uniformly strong and an antithesis to the often-dithering, often-weak male protagonists.
Think about it - Feluda lives with Topshe's parents and never in the 30-odd novels do we have any mention of the mother! There are passing mentions of the father - most notably, when he refused to let Feluda move into a flat of his own thus retaining Bengali literature's most iconic address (27, Rajani Sen Road)! In the film (Shonar Kella), however, we see the mother - a typical worrying Bong mom - who expresses concern that her son is missing too much school to accompany Feluda on his adventures (but is placated by her husband, who is confident that the school cannot possibly have teachers as good as Feluda).

Therefore, here is a quick update – from memory – of the female characters that I can remember from Feluda novels.
Additions solicited. Omissions apologized for!

The most common type of female character in a Feluda novel – surprisingly and yet unsurprisingly – is a film actress! Three novels that I can remember (which had film shooting as part of the plot) had them.
The first one came in the first book which had a film shooting as part of it – Bombaiyer Bombetey (The Buccaneer of Bombay). Shooting for Jet Bahadur based on Jatayu’s novel was attended by the problem-solving trio in Lonavla which was the climax sequence and involved a train, dacoits on horseback and the hero in a convertible. The heroine (along with her uncle!) was supposed to have been imprisoned by the villain is the train compartment. The hero (Arjun Mehrotra) and villain (Mickey) had some peripheral things to do (like Mickey taking Feluda's autograph, for instance) but the heroine (whose name I cannot remember, for the life of me!) was not even present at the shooting as her scenes were to be shot at the studio.

In Koilashey Kelenkari (The Murder in Kailash), the shooting is totally peripheral to the plot, serving no other purpose but stopping Feluda from conducting his investigations in the temples of Aurangabad. But the details of the film are plentiful and intriguing. The name of the film being shot is Crorepati. The hero is Arjun Mehrotra (from Bombetey), the villain Balwant Chopra (who has apparently attacked the heroine in one of the temples) and the heroine Roopa, who becomes least peripheral to the plot by discovering a dead body.

In Darjeeling Jomjomat, the heroine in the film version of Jatayu is a Bollywood addition and in one scene, Jatayu gets totally deflated when he hears the villain is going use the heroine as a human shield and verbally lash the hero! The heroine (Suchandra) gets a cursory mention when the trio first meet the film crew at Bagdogra airport and she is dismissed by Topshe with a 'dekhtey bhalo kintu makeup ta ektu beshi korechhen' (good-looking but too much make up).

Dr Munshi-r Diary - one of the later Feluda novels, had a very strong female character as the eponymous Doctor's wife. The plot was about Dr Munshi's - a psychiatrist and a hunter - autobiography, which was supposed to be published by Penguin. In the book, he damns several of his relatives and partially names some of his client's issues. This causes severe heartburn among these people and the good doctor is murdered (and the manuscript stolen). Without giving the plot away, let me just say that Mrs Dolly Munshi plays a stellar role in the mystery, holding her own against Feluda when he interrogates her.

In Jahangir-er Swarna Mudra (Jahangir's Gold Coins), the trio lands up at a haveli trying to solve the mystery of an antique gold coin stolen a year back. The coins were stolen either at a birthday party for Feluda's host or from a safe, which was in the host's octogenarian aunt's room. Her insomnia made her an inadvertently good guard for the precious items though the thief managed to get away with the stuff. The old lady was complete with senile idiosyncrasies, one of which was to wake up in the middle of the night and prepare mashed paan for herself. And there lay a clue!

Chhinnamastaar Abhishaap (The Curse of the Goddess) is my favourite Feluda novel, complete with an escaped tiger, a missing son, word puzzles and a murder. The daughter-in-law of the victim was Neelima Chaudhuri, who was supposed to be quite good-looking (along with the rest of the family). Not only that, she was also intelligent (participated successfully in a parlour game with Feluda & Co), mentally strong (looked after guests even when there had been a mishap) and eventually honest (handed over her husband's tape-recorder to Feluda, as a vital clue).
Her six-year old daughter, Bibi, seemed to have inherited the mother's genes since she had started playing word puzzles with the grandfather already!

Ambar Sen Antardhaan Rahasya (The Disappearance of Ambar Sen) had two very interesting ladies.
The sister-in-law (brother's wife) of the missing Ambar Sen was not identified by name but as Mrs Sen and Topshe is gushingly descriptive (?) of her beauty. She called her 'quite beautiful' (ritimoto shundori), bright and did not look she was over forty! And as if that was not enough, she even came up with an important memory from long back to aid the detection process.
Her daughter - Runa (I think) - was a fan of Feluda but had caught on to a discrepancy in the early Feluda novels. In the earlier novels, Topshe described Feluda as his maternal cousin (mashtuto) but changed it to paternal (jyathtuto) later on. Ray probably got thousands of letters from fans and used Runa to slip in an apology from Feluda, who defended his cousin's slip-up quite smartly.

Shakuntala-r Kantha-haar (The Necklace of Shakuntala) had two firsts in terms of female characters of Feluda novels. For the first time, Feluda spent some time alone with a female character (Mary Sheila Biswas) - who was also instrumental in the solving of the puzzle. Also, a description of the character's clothing (salwar kameez with no jewelry) was provided. Even her career interest (a suitably girlie 'interior decoration') was duly noted. Grand-daughter of a major film star of silent cinema, Mary Sheila left a very positive impression on Feluda. She could have well been the Irene Adler of the series, had this novel not been one of the weakest of Feluda stories.


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