It’s a light yellow colored mansion in an upmarket locality in Kolkata called Bishop Lefroy Road. I have passed by the address numerous times, marveling at the majestic building and thinking of the man who had lived on its third floor in a rented apartment. He was no ordinary man. He was Satyajit Ray, the person who had put Indian cinema on the international map and was bestowed the Honorary Award at the Oscars in 1992.
But I had never had the opportunity to walk through the giant doors of the apartment and walk into the library where Satyajit Ray, arguably one of the best filmmakers of all times, had spent most of his time writing, sketching and creating those brilliant films in his mind.
On September 8, I got that rare opportunity though. The invitation was to celebrate the double birthday of Ray’s son Sandip Ray, a filmmaker in his own right, and actor Sabyasachi Chakraborty, who has been playing the role of Feluda, the iconic sleuth created by Satyajit Ray way back in 1965 when he edited the magazine Sandesh. Since then Feluda has been compared with Sherlock Holmes and has been someone that Bengalis have been immensely proud of. While the original Feluda remains alive in Ray’s writings, Sandip Ray has tried to contemporize Feluda in his films by making him more tech savvy and incorporating snazzy locales and international travel in his itinerary.
When I met Sandip Ray he was busy taking a shot for the film Double Feluda, where two stories have been put together in the script but the centre of attention was the place where they were shooting, and that too for the first time. Incidentally the making of Double Feluda, produced by Eros International, marks 50 years since Feluda came into being through Ray’s pen.
For the film they had converted Ray’s library, a huge room filled with endless shelves of books, a room where he made history every day, into Sidhu Jyatha’s (uncle’s) study. Dabbling in knowledge of every kind and testing Feluda’s knowledge at the slightest opportunity Sidhu Jyatha was Ray’s favourite fictional character. He was someone through whom he reinforced the importance of acquiring knowledge.
Not much has changed in the Ray home since the celebrated director’s demise in 1992 (he was so unwell he could not travel to accept his Oscar given to him in the same year). The long balcony has pictures of Ray hanging from the walls and the sitting room on the right has a set of sofas where Hirak Sen was sitting and talking to the cast and crew. Hirak Sen was Ray’s official photographer and some of his best shots were taken by him.
Despite being one of the most famous households in India the Rays stick to the tradition of a family member answering the doorbell and no one is ever allowed to leave the house without having tea. On this particular day there was much activity in the house because of the movie crew and the presence of the media. Starting from the balcony, to the sitting room to the airy kitchen or to the master bedroom, every place had been taken over but no one seemed to mind. Lalita Ray, Satyjit Ray’s daughter-in-law said: “It’s good to have visitors. Since it is both Sandip Ray and Sabyasachi’s birthday today it feels so good that so many people have come.”
As the bouquets kept arriving along with the birthday wishes, keeping to the Ray tradition of being impeccable hosts Lalita and Sandip made it a point to talk to every visitor and cake and fish fry along with tea was served to everybody.
There was not just one cake on the table but a number of them and as groups of photographers arrived from the best known channels and newspapers in Kolkata the birthday boys—Sandip and Sabyasachi- obliged all by cutting a chocolate cake once, followed by a blackforest cake and then a truffle cake, pieces of which were constantly served on the paper plates.
This day was, in fact, all about specials. For the first time a film was being shot in the precious space that has been Satyajit Ray’s famous study. Tripods stood in all corners with cameras standing on them and sunlight filtering on to the array of books through a giant window. Sandip Ray was standing behind the camera and Paran Bandopadhyay, who was playing Sidhu Jyatha was giving the shot.
I wondered had Ray been alive how he would have reacted to his study being taken over and a film being shot there. I thought maybe when its creativity at work he wouldn’t have been perturbed and when it was his favorite character sitting there he would have probably heartily approved.