I still remember when I was a child my mom bought me the signet press edition of Chander Pahar with the cover illustrated by Satyajit Ray. I read the book and instantly fell in love with it. To me it was the epitome of all action/adventure stories where the naïve young hero is pitted in perilous situations in his journey to the fabled Mountains of Moon. The journey to the mountains is not only physical, but spiritual as well for Shankar and follows the exact pattern of Monomyth, a doctrine made famous by Mythologist and famed author Joseph Campbell. Campbell says in his book ‘The Hero with a Thousand faces:
‘A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.’
Like all Mythical heroes Shankar responds to ‘The Call to Adventure’; the hero begins in a mundane situation of normality from which some information is received that acts as a call to head off into the unknown. For Shankar it was the mystery of the Dark Continent Africa. Once the hero or Shankar in this case is committed to the quest his guide or ‘magical’ helper arrives and leads him deeper into the heart of adventure in the form of Diego Alvarez.
Shankar walks the ‘road of trials’, a metaphor of the hurdles, perils and hardships he has to face in the journey and his transformation from a simple rustic young man to a seasoned adventurer begins. The hero suffers tremendous agony and loss, also in the form of his mentor Alvarez as he is killed by the ‘nemesis’ in form of The Bunyip. With the loss of Alvarez the hero has to endure on his own which leads his descent into the underworld, the dark caves of no return and his final confrontation with the nemesis. Shankar escapes victorious, the very fact that he saw the demonic beast and lived to tell the tale is no less than victory and then follows the return which almost claims his life. But Shankar does return and his atonement with the Great Spirit of Africa is complete after his trials and tribulations.
Chander Pahar always caught my fancy, it was full of adventure, great vistas of exotic visuals, thrill and horror as well; it had all the makings of a great Hollywood blockbuster. Unfortunately this is not Hollywood and especially the Bengali Film industry was never strong enough creatively and financially to pull something like this off, but lo, times have changed. When Chander Pahar was announced I was skeptical, no unlike other my skepticism was not about Dev but the sheer production value this film demands. Regarding Dev, when the director chose him over Parambrata, I thought that it was certainly a masterstroke. Unlike the urban cynics Dev has got an aura of youth and innocence about him which was apt for a character like Shankar, added to that was his tremendous mass appeal. The sheer presence of Dev will bring in herds of movie goers from simple backgrounds in the small towns and villages to the theaters. Regarding his acting skills and diction I must say an actor is only as good as his/her director and thankfully with Mr. Mukherjee, Dev couldn’t have been in safer hands. About his stunted, awkward Bengali, a justification comes to my mind, Shankar has been in Africa for quite a long time and he has been speaking either English or Swahili or other local languages and for sure it would have taken a toll on his mother tongue. I have seen people staying a year in the U.S and coming back with a slurry bastardized accent to fit the Yankee tone. I am not surprised of Shankar having such an accent after staying years in Africa. In a nutshell it made sense to me.
What appalled me was the sheer production quality that they came up with in a meager budget if 15 crores, which is a hefty amount indeed but a fraction the budget of so called bollywood blockbusters. What I have seen in the trailers, the cinematography is absolutely breathtaking. The VFX (as much as I could see in the blurry glimpse of the volcano scene) looks a bit amateurish, but I am willing to forgive that just for the fact that the team had the guts to attempt something like this which was beyond imagination for a Bengali movie. My only concern is the Bunyip, since character animation and CGI is extremely expensive and I pray it doesn’t look ridiculous. However if they even pull off a half decent job, I will be the first person to give the film a standing ovation.
It is evident that Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay was heavily inspired from Sir H. Rider Haggard’s ‘King Solomon’s Mines’ to write Chander Pahar, but the way he told the story and made it his own through the eyes of a rustic Bengali young man Shankar is no ordinary task and a revolutionary attempt at his time. Such a revolution made Chander Pahar into an instant classic and made the novel immortal. Similarly I have seen a lot of Hollywood action adventures like Indiana Jones (Raiders of the Lost Arc), The Ghost and the Darkness, The Mummy, Zulu, The flight of the Phoenix, Congo, Tarzan the Ape Man (1932), African Queen, The Gods Must be Crazy, The English Patient, and the list goes on; curiously most movies made in the African Backdrop are heartily applauded and gain success both critically and financially. Chander Pahar will perhaps be the first Indian Film having colonial Africa as its backdrop, and I am sure the director has imbibed plenty of inspiration from the above mentioned films, and if he successfully interprets them on screen Kamaleshwar Mukherjee will go down in history with Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay as the one who had the courage to challenge the norms and standing atop in the hall of victory. Will he be able to do that? The answer awaits us all in 20th December 2013.
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Shamik Dasgupta is presently the most prolific Indian writer of graphic novels and comic books. His work ranges from science fiction, fantasy, horror and comedy to superheroes. His claim to fame was with Ramayan 3392 AD in collaboration with director Shekhar Kapur and famed author Deepak Chopra. Presently Shamik is working on an adaptation of the Bengali classic,Bankim Chandra’s Devi Chaudhurani.