‘Ray’s films can’t be remade’

This year Satyajit Ray’s iconic film, Sonar Kella or the ‘Golden Fortress’ completes 50 years. An instant hit when it was released on 27 December 1974, half a century later the movie remains fresh in the minds of audiences across the world.

‘Ray’s films can’t be remade’

Sandip Ray (photo:SNS)

This year Satyajit Ray’s iconic film, Sonar Kella or the ‘Golden Fortress’ completes 50 years. An instant hit when it was released on 27 December 1974, half a century later the movie remains fresh in the minds of audiences across the world. Sandip Ray, the master director’s son and himself an acclaimed filmmaker, in an interview with

The Statesman’s Dola Mitra, analyses the classical appeal of the film which revolves around the adventures of the fictional detective Feluda and a child with memories of a past life, while also recalling the heady days of shooting the film in the then remote town of Jaisalmer in Rajasthan. Excerpts:

Q: When Sonar Kella was made 50 years ago, you were a part of your father’s film unit. Do you recall those days?


A: Yes, vividly. I was one of the photographers on the sets and I travelled with Baba and his unit to Rajasthan where the film was partially set. It was an exciting and adventurous journey full of experience and intrigue.

Q: As a 21-year-old, did you have any inkling at that time that the film would eventually gain such an iconic status?

A: The film had tremendous appeal at that time too. Feluda was already a popular character by then. Baba’s stories had already come out in different magazines. In Sandesh, (the literary magazine then edited by his father and now by him), Feluda had reached a pinnacle of success even then. People wanted to hear about him, his stories and adventures. Baba used to be flooded with letters and phone calls with demands for more stories on Feluda. There were no other means of communication at that time. The requests came from different people of various ages. So my father realised that he would just have to keep on writing more and more Feluda stories.

Q: How did this particular story, Sonar Kella come about though?

A:Oh, Sonar Kellahas an intriguing back story. The first time that my father went to Rajasthan’s Jaisalmer was for the shooting of his children’s film, Goopi Gyne Bagha Byne (GGBB). And he was absolutely awestruck by the place. Especially, when he saw the ruins of this amazing fortress with a dazzling yellow colour. He was really drawn to it and wanted to capture it in his film. But that did not work out. The budget of GGBB wouldn’t allow it. This regret remained but Baba never gave up the thought of making a film which would capture this beautiful, brilliant golden fort.

Q: So Feluda travelled to Rajasthan?

A:(Chuckles) Precisely. In any case by this time, Baba had started to send Feluda to all those different places where he himself had gone for whatever reason. Whether for shoots or just travel. They were not just any old place but the places which intrigued Baba, those destinations which he found fascinating. For instance, the first Feluda story, ‘Feluda’r Goenda Giri’ that came out in 1965 was set in Darjeeling, one of my father’s most favourite places. The story was serialised for three months in Sandesh and immediately gained immense popularity. One of my father’s other favourite places was Puri. Feluda was sent there too, of course. Then he made a documentary on Sikkim. And he loved it. So he sent Feluda to Gangtok. This was more or less the case. So obviously, Feluda just had to go to Rajasthan, especially Jaisalmer and the golden fort.

Q: While Ray is supposed to have been fascinated with both the sea (Puri) and the mountains (Darjeeling), was he also equally fascinated with deserts? Why did he choose Rajasthan?

A: Yes, as far as the sea and the mountains are concerned, Baba was extremely fond of both. Rajasthan had other appeals too. It was like a fairytale land replete with forts and fortresses, palaces, deserts. There are the elements of intrigue.

Q: Did he immediately start work on the film after GGBB?

A: The book was written first. It was published in 1971. The film followed three years later. This was the first time that the character of Jatayu was introduced in the stories. It established the three musketeers of Feluda, Topse and Jatayu. In fact, this was one of Baba’s favourite novels. He was very fond of the Jatayu character. This was also about a child, Mukul. Actually in this novel, Mukul rather than Feluda was the main character. After the popularity of GGBB, it was felt that why not write a Feluda story for children? The biggest attraction of course was the “golden fortress”.

Q: How did casting for the film begin? Was the child actor selected after auditioning?

A: The planning for the film started as soon as the book was published. Kushal (Chakraborty) was Baba’s first and only choice to play Mukul. He was one of my father’s favourite persons. He did not come for the audition. His father had brought him to meet my father because he wanted my father to have a look at Kushal’s drawings. Kushal was an exceptionally gifted boy and his drawings were outstanding. My father found him fascinating. He was a child prodigy.

Q: The trip to Jaisalmer was supposed to have been a completely unique experience. Could you tell us a little about that?

A: Absolutely. In fact, the biggest impact that Sonar Kella had was on Jailsalmer. Earlier, it was not one of Rajasthan’s better known places. Not like Jaipur or Udaipur. There was hardly any tourist interest in it. Few people went to Jaisalmer. It was one of Rajasthan’s most neglected spaces, you can say. It was considered a godforsaken, back of beyond region where possibly convicts and criminals were banished. Some locals even said that the name possibly derived from something like “Ja sala mar” (Go die).

Q: Then how did your father discover it (Jaisalmer)?

A: For the shooting of GGBB in Rajasthan, Baba was very sure that he did not want to film in locations which were already very touristy. He didn’t want to shoot in locations where filming had taken place earlier. ‘I want to avoid Udaipur or Jaipur and other popular destinations,’ he had said. So he opted for places which were different and slightly less travelled or situated in the outskirts. Jaisalmer was one such place.

Q: Did the shooting take place in one go or did you keep returning to Jaisalmer?

A: No, it had to be completed in one go. It was not easy to travel to Jaisalmer and it was too costly. We took the train from Calcutta to Delhi, from Delhi to Jaipur, from Jaipur to Jodhpur, from Jodhpur to Bikaner and from Bikaner to Jaisalmer. And then the same route back.

Q: What was the general reaction of the unit on reaching this amazing destination?

A: When we first went, the golden fortress was desolate, in ruins. There was a military base behind it and a temple, a local temple where some gods or goddesses were worshipped from time to time perhaps. Out of all the outdoor shootings of my father in which I was assisting, this was the most difficult. This is because it was not in the familiar grounds of Bengal. It was in a different place. The people were different. The language was different. Of course, in those days there was no Internet, and connectivity was not as smooth. There were landline phones which did not always operate well. During shoots it was difficult. But it was impeccably planned and executed. Down to the last detail.

Q: But now Jaisalmer is totally on the tourist map?

A: Exactly. And Sonar Kella, the film is solely behind this. Things changed drastically for Jaisalmer after the film came out. When we had gone for the shoot, it was so remote, a railway track was just being built connecting Jaisalmer to Jaipur. But after the film, flocks of Bengalis started arriving at the spot. They carried the Sonar Kella book in hand as a sort of guide. It had suddenly become a destination.

Q. When did you last go back to Jaisalmer?

A: A few of us had gone to Jaisalmer just before the pandemic when one of my former assistants was shooting a documentary on “Fifty years of Feluda.” It was my first trip after the film was made 50 years ago. I also told my wife, who had not seen Jaisalmer before, that she should see it at least once. So we went there. That is when we witnessed the sheer transformation. I doubt that any other film anywhere in the world would have had so much of an impact on a place as did Sonar Kella, the movie on Jaisalmer. The original name of the fort had been something else but now no one refers to it by that name. Everyone just says, “Sone ka Killa” (the golden fortress).

Q: If you had remade Sonar Kella, how would you have handled the lack of communication scenes in this day and age of mobile phones?

A: First of all, I would never attempt to remake Sonar Kella. It is absolutely unthinkable. I personally don’t think Baba’s films can ever be remade because they are iconic and classic and it would be almost impossible to achieve that level of class. As far as technology is concerned, I do slip in a mobile here or a new age gadget there just to make it and keep it real. Otherwise the younger generations won’t be able to identify with it all. But this is done very subtly so that it is not intrusive or does not take away from the Feluda effect.