March 23, 2011 (Calcutta Tube): The Kolkata of today co-exists with the old Kolkata of the 1970s in Gorosthane Sabdhaan. Sandip Ray offers us wonderful glimpses into old Calcutta even while relocating the novel published in book form in 1979 by flashing it forward to 2010 and making slightly necessary changes to the script to fit into the present time-frame. One discovers that the city of Kolkata with warts and all has evolved into a significant character in the film. Despite the time leap from story to film, the flavour of an old Kolkata comes back like an old gramophone record forgotten in some old shelf. But this Calcutta-Kolkata incorporates a sophisticated hospital, modern gizmos like a band playing at Trincas, an Internet café Feluda steps into to google-search whether a Perigal Repeater is a gun or an antique clock, walking into Seagull Bookstore and walking out as the salesperson looks puzzled, stepping into Bourne and Shepherd, the city’s oldest photographic studio to learn about one Mahadeb Choudhuri (Dhritiman Chatterjee) who has 250 clocks in his collection.
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Above everything else, this film has revived interest among old Kolkattans and aroused the curiosity of amon contemporary students of the city’s history about old and forgotten places in the city that were once very visible and famous. The first and foremost is the South Park Street Cemetery that could be said, is the metaphorical ‘hero’ of the story and the film. The South Park Street cemetery has 1600 graves but has not been used for many years. Incidentally, Thomas Godwin is a fictional character in the Feluda story created by Satyajit Ray so interestingly that one begins to believe that he actually existed! The 1600 tombs stand along narrow pathways criss-crossing each other. The tombs are decorated with cenotaphs and epitaphs. Founded in 1767 and restored by the Christian Burial Board, it has the tombs of Henry Louis Vivian Derozio, William Jones, founder of the Asiatic Society, John Hyde, a judge famous for his papers and Rose Aylmer who inspired the poem of the same name by Walter Savage Landor. The film opens on the credit titles flashed on the gravestones on a night of heavy rains and the camera moves in circles, in an imaginative experiment. It catches the intrigue and eerie ambience of a graveyard at night, embellished with ambient sound effects.
Bourne & Sheperd, located on S.N. Banerjee Road near Esplanade, was the city’s oldest photographic studio that, little known to most of us, was gutted in a fire some years ago. Sandip decided to show the entrance and the passage leading to the stairs of the studio though the large historical room where thousands of negatives were stories that was mentioned in the story had to be dropped. The film also centers on Job Charnock’s mausoleum in a scene. Topshe and Lalmohan explore the grave of Job Charnock, Marquis Godwin’s dilapidated flat in a scary building on Ripon Street with a STD booth standing below, lunch hogged in a hurry at Chung Wah, a once-famous Chinese restaurant in central Calcutta, ending along the banks at Raichak, a new addition, is wonderfully portrayed with bytes of information flowing in naturally through Feluda’s encyclopaedic general knowledge.
One of the most attractive features in the film that appeals to antique historians and students in the presence of the Perigal Repeater, an 18th century pocket watch made by the celebrated English watchmaker Francis Perigal. Ray had an enviable collection of books and periodicals on old Kolkata in his personal library, now carefully preserved by the Satyajit Ray Society, a NGO committed to the restoration and preservation of the legacies of Ray. One must not forget the West End pocket watch handed to Jatayu by his grandfather, as a family heirloom, he gifts away to Feluda, his voice touched with emotion.
Shoma A. Chatterji