Feluda’s ‘Topshe’ Remembers His Manik Jethu – Satyajit Ray
Siddhartha Chatterjee, who played ‘Topshe’ in Satyajit Ray’s famous ‘Feluda’ series, opens up about his Manik Jethu.
(This story was first published on 2 May 2019 and has been reposted from The Quint’s archives)
Siddhartha Chatterjee now has many identities – that of a share market analyst, a restaurateur and an entrepreneur. But one identity that he has not been able to shed is one which he has held since he was thirteen – that of Feluda’s Topshe.
For the uninitiated, the Feluda series is one of the most popular detective series in Bengali literature, written Satyajit Ray. The series was then adapted into movies. It revolves around detective-extrordinaire Pradosh Chandra Mitter aka Feluda, who is assisted in his mystery-solving by his cousin Tapesh Ranjan Mitter (Topshe) and author-friend Lalmohan Ganguly (Jatayu).
Now, a market guru, Chatterjee’s quintessential stock-market office building is lined with photos from the shoots of Joy Baba Felunath (1978) and Sonar Kella (1974).
“I was taken to his house by one of my teachers. He instantly liked me as Topshe. Though I didn’t think I could pull off the part, he saw the character in me”, say Chatterjee.
We asked him a few questions about his association with the legendary director.
What was different about Ray’s style of filmmaking that set him apart from the rest?
Preparedness for a film, the homework he used to do. His famous laal-khelor khata was basically an excel sheet that he’d developed on his own by scribbling anything he wanted to in sketches. He knew exactly where to cut. Unnecessarily prolonging a film, or as we call in technical language, “extra footage”, was not there. The footage was done absolutely rightly for which we had the kind of effect that we did while watching the films.
How was it working with Ray at the tender age of 13?
There was no strain, no tension, and no work in the wrong hours. We used to get over by 6 pm and start at 9.30 am everyday, like office. The food on set was always very good.
Ray as a man was jovial, full of fun and laughter, and absolutely opposite of what people think about him. He was the last person to get worried about anything, and was very friendly with the artists. He would take suggestions. He would run the team in such a way that it was really a marvelous organisation.
What is your fondest memory from the shoots?
I remember we were in the studio and shooting. Feluda was lying on the bed, there was a scorpion on the bed and it was moving towards Feluda. I was supposed to see that and shout. Then Feluda would get up and put a glass on top of the scorpion and I was supposed to kill that scorpion.
This is where I got really worried.
I asked, “With my foot I’ll smash it?”
He said, “Yeah. Or pose as if you’re smashing it.”
I thought that posing would not create the right kind of body language, so I actually did it. And after that, I got really nervous!
Manik Jethu (Ray) the said – “Arre? You really did it? Great. You are a really brave boy.
I was so happy because someone called me a brave boy and I think that is how Ray connected with his young actors.
You say Ray is one of the greatest “Managers” in history. Why?
The managerial techniques that he used in those days are what modern day managers are now taught in school. For example, during Sonar Kella, the outdoor shoot in Rajasthan got over four-five days in advance.
We were very unhappy and wanted to do more scenes. But it got over before time, because he was so timely every day, that we never had to do overtime.
Secondly, because of his speed, the total number of shoot days got shrunk to lesser days. With him, I wanted to shoot. I wanted to give the dates. I wanted to be with him.
When you see your boss working overtime, you tend to not feel bad about your own work.
Any fun fact from the Feluda series you’d like to share with us?
Did you know that Soumitra Chatterjee (who played Feluda) wore a wig in the series? When he was sketching Feluda’s face, Ray had a certain idea. Like for example, after I became Topshe, all the sketches of Topshe became like me in the next Feluda books.
Now Soumitra (Chatterjee) Kaku had lovely hair. We could have worked with that hair, but Ray found it too stylish. He thus created a wig for Feluda.
Ray is known for many of his children-centric films. How was his equation with his child actors?
Handling kids was his special area of expertise. He would spend a lot of fun time with us, playing chess, ludo, telling us stories and so on. That way, the kids get used to him. That’s one of the reasons why I was never afraid of him. He was like a friend. He used to talk about stories and cricket and football and Phantom and Tintin and all kinds of stuff. He was Google by himself – a storehouse of information.
The kids also had a friend called Jethi Maa which was Mrs Bijoya Ray (Ray’s wife), who would be there as a mother to all the kids. She would take care of all the details and say,“Now have a glass of water. Now have a glass of juice.”She was always there on set.
Any message for ‘Manik Jethu’, if he were alive today?
Jethu, wherever you are, whatever I am today is because of you. If you weren’t in my life, I wouldn’t even be 10 percent of what I am today. I thank you for making me a Chartered Accountant also, as it is because of your promise to my mother that I became a CA. That’s another feather on your cap. You could make someone a CA.
What can I say? This one man changed my life.
Reporter and Camera: Ishadrita Lahiri
Video Editor: Prashant Chauhan
Video Producer: Chandni Sharma
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