Warning: This review contains spoilers!!
The film begins with an extreme and unfortunate close up of actor Subhashish Mukherji face. Unfortunate, because an opening to a movie like this needs a level of sophistication, and Mr. Mukherji simply does not have the histrionic ability to pull off a close up that doesn’t look ridiculous. His wide open eyes, nervous panting and lip-licking are straight out of the saddest Bengali B-movies aimed at the lowest common denominator. The good thing is, this lowers expectations to such an extent that a movie cannot help but get better, and Gorosthane Sabdhan does get better.
Feluda is arguably Bangla’s biggest pop-culture icon. He is the classic danpite, a quick-thinking, ass-kicking, six foot figure that towered over our childhood and made us dream of adventure. From a personal standpoint, I have always preferred Sabyasachi to Soumitro when it comes to Feludas because he seemed to fit that image far better. That said, there is no denying that Sabyasachi is not getting any younger, and while he still makes a cracking sleuth, his expanding midriff has to be kept artfully out of view through this entire movie. As for the new Topshe, Saheb Bhattacharya does a perfectly adequate job, but then again, Topshe has rarely been that important in the grand scheme of things anyway (Before you start fuming at that, ask ten people to describe what the main characters in Sonar Kella looked like. You’ll be surprised at how many people have almost completely forgotten him). And Bibhu Bhattachara is, well, Bibhu Bhattacharya. Perfectly incompetent as an actor, but I find him oddly lovable and sweet. Much like Jatayu, it seems like his oddities and even his overacting are more like character traits rather than anything else. In short, he’s Jatayu.
The story begins with a nighttime raid at the Park Street Cemetary. Two bad guys are digging up a grave while the man who is clearly their boss (Subhashish Mukherji) stands and overacts. They are disturbed with the arrival of another man, the goons run off while the boss man does a little jig and then attacks the intruder, things happen and the game is, as they say, afoot. Slowly we are introduced to the other players, and thankfully, many of them are played by competent actors this time around. Dhritiman, who I have found to be somewhat affected in other roles is perfect here as the venomous, arrogant bad guy, Mahadeb Choudhury, while Tinu Anand steals every scene he is in as Marcus Godwin, a bitter but still surprisingly likeable character central to the story. The tertiary actors mostly stink up the place but they do not have to be endured for more than a minute at a stretch.
That said, we come to the biggest flaw in the movie; the script. Budgetary constraints have forced Feluda to be updated for the 21st century (a period piece would have been too expensive), but the transition is patchy. So while we have Feluda using a cellphone (borrowed), and browsing the net for information (at a cybercafé), there are egregious missteps like Jatayu asking if Rs.150 would be enough for a meal for three at Trinca’s. It’s more than a little strange that he doesn’t understand what a pitifully inadequate amount that is. Why that couldn’t be increased from the original book, we never know?
Another problem is that the allowances the director makes for a 21st century Feluda are hammered home with all the subtlety of a roundhouse kick, sometimes raising questions when there were none. Every single time Feluda needs some information, some explanation has to be given as to why he doesn’t just Google it. This is fine the first couple of times, but then becomes grating. And when Feluda says “parar cybercafé ta ekhono kholeni bole check korte parlam na”, it inevitably gives rise to the question, why does a sleuth not have internet at home? This is a case of the explanation being far more jarring than no explanation at all. We are watching a movie about grave robbers hunting for a long lost, priceless watch, our sense of disbelief is pretty suspended anyway.
The other grating thing about the movie is the sure volume of product placements on display, and the amount of screen time given to them. If there ever was an award for most number of billboards and brand logos in a movie, Gorosthane Sabdhan would sweep it. On top of that, we have Feluda mouthing the catchline of a cellphone service provider, an act of product placement so shameless, I felt like looking away. I couldn’t look at the supersleuth of my youth for a few minutes after that.
Gorosthane Sabdhan is not a bad movie by any means; in fact it’s one of the better movies of the new Feluda franchise. After the disappointing Tintoretor Jishu and the blood curdlingly bad Kaliasher Kelengkari, it’s pleasant to watch a reasonably good, if uneven Feluda Story. The overall cast is better this time around, and the film seems to be more polished and slick; perhaps not spending the entire budget on foreign locales is the reason for that. An ageing Feluda didn’t cause me any problems; however, it may be an issue with some people. If you love Feluda and haven’t been offended by the previous Sandipr Ray helmed movies about the character, you will have a good time. However, the fact remains that Sandip Ray is a much better technician than he is a storyteller, so if you plan on seeing this one without your nostalgia tinted glasses, you have been warned.