Byomkesh, Feluda and Kakababu

Byomkesh, Feluda and Kakababu

Byomkesh, Feluda and Kakababu are three characters of Bengali literature who have captured the imagination and attention of teenagers and young adults in Bengal over the past decades. This piece is meant as a tribute to these three charismatic men whom Bengali youngsters have idolized and been mesmerized by.

In Byomkesh Bakshi, Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay created a quintessentially Bengali detective. Byomkesh resembled his creator in physical appearance and his costume embodied the typical Bengali gentleman of a period around India’s independence from foreign rule. In many ways, Byomkesh was the first star detective of Bengali literature, although he preferred to be addressed as Satyanweshi. Ajit was his Watson who not only accompanied him in his truth-seeking missions but was also, like Dr. Watson for Sherlock Holmes, the chronicler of (most of) his tales. Where Byomkesh deviated drastically from many of his ilk was that in the course of one of his adventures, he not only fell in love with a lady but also tied the knot with her (Satyabati). Byomkesh novels were always more than mere cat-and-mouse affairs in that they were never divorced from the greater society around, in which incidents and crimes took place. And with the marriage of Byomkesh and Satyabati, a new angle of crests and troughs of a conjugal life made its way into the plots which only served to richen the intricately woven tales.

Feluda, or Pradosh C. Mitter, the private investigator was a creation of the great Satyajit Ray. Aged around thirty, Feluda was accompanied by his younger cousin Topshe and (in most of his stories) Lalmohan Ganguli, an author friend who used the pen name Jatayu. While Topshe was the narrator and served as the lens for the target audience of the young reader to idolize Feluda, Jatayu provided comic relief with his antics and wisecracks gone wrong. Feluda with his hero-like physique, qualities and intellect was a natural idol with teenage boys and easily their choice of a cool detective. Topshe, naturally, served as the medium here, of a sidekick and a medium to the demigod. With Jatayu, however, Ray gave birth to an unusual character in the genre. A caricature of ill-informed and over-ambitious children’s fiction writers with little regard for facts, Jatayu could well have been a broom to beat his real-life counterparts with, but the priceless moments of fun he provided to the young reader effectively masked any such sarcasm even if any was intended. He was the perfect antidote to Feluda who was a walking repository of knowledge himself. In line with the creator’s character, Feluda stories were often travelogues and his field of action stretched from cities of India to hill stations and even London on one occasion. Byomkesh on the other hand, operated mostly In Bengal.

Raja Roychowdhury or Kakababu as he is known more famously was brought to life by Sunil Gangopadhyay, arguably the finest writer in the Bengali literary universe of his era. As with the earlier two, Kakababu inherited some traits from his creator. A middle-aged man, forced to use crutches for moving around since an accident, Kakababu enthralled the young minds with his inner strength and firm character, underneath which lied a soft heart, which could not bear the sight of a man crying. In a way, Kakababu was a contrasting character to Feluda. His hunting grounds stretched from Egypt to the Andamans and from the suburbs of Kolkata to the forests of Kaziranga. Kakababu, despite being a fiercely rational mind, is a sensitive man unlike Feluda whose emotions are rarely on display. However, there are similarities too. Like Feluda, Kakababu comes in a pack of three – accompanied by his nephew Santu and Santu’s friend Jojo. While Santu is brave, quiet, intelligent and the good boy, Jojo has a streak of mischief in him and lets his ‘imagination’ run wild, often to the amusement of the reader.

In many ways, the transition from Byomkesh to Kakababu via Feluda is a reflection of the times they (and their creators) lived in as well as the personalities that shaped them.
Of course, there is a difference in what is, in marketing parlance, their target group. Byomkesh can be appreciated better by a mature audience while Feluda and Kakababu are fodder for younger minds.

In many ways, the transition from Byomkesh to Kakababu via Feluda is a reflection of the times they (and their creators) lived in as well as the personalities that shaped them

In addition to their original avatars, the screen personas of these three gentlemen too helped form their imprints in varying degrees and in turn, shape their following. Feluda has been the luckiest in this regard of the thereby far, having enjoyed the patron of Satyajit in two unforgettable films, portrayed by the dashing Soumitra Chatterjee. More recently, a slew of films directed by Sandip Ray have helped kept the craze alive in the present generation of school and college-goers. In Sandip’s hands, Feluda became more active physically which was apparently aimed at ‘competing’  with his modern-day rivals, battling for pride of place in the minds of a generation of children whose parents had a much narrower range of heroes to idolize as they were awed by a Feluda more cerebrally inclined. Satyajit did make a film on Byomkesh too, starring none other than the superstar of Bengali cinema, Uttam Kumar in the lead role. But, it is Rajit Kapur’s TV rendition which is the more long-lasting on-screen avatar of Byomkesh. In recent times, Anjan Dutt is attempting to create a sleeker big screen Byomkesh. However, it is too early now to predict its impact on reviving Byomkesh. Of the three, Kakababu undoubtedly has had the least success on screen, with no standout performance or production coming to mind immediately. However, the advantage of adapting Kakababu novels for the screen lie in their pristine storylines, as a consequence of which they can be accessed by a school-going crowd slightly greener than Feluda devotees without their guardians having to fear corruption of their minds. Also, an avuncular figure, Kakababu pulls at heartstrings in a manner different from the other two.

In conclusion, one hopes that the trio will continue to entertain and enthrall the next generation(s?) of Bengali (if not Indian) teenagers. Perhaps, they will.

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