Having watched Kamleshwar Mukherjee’s earlier film ‘Meghe Dhaka Tara (cloud-capped star)’, it is striking to see a new director on the block who is just 3 films old, make such a powerful use of cinematic techniques. It’s a huge leap forward in terms of visual production for the Bengali film industry.
The story is an adaptation of Bengal’s classic writer Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay’s work by the same title. Chander Pahar begins with a flash-forward, and then spans a story spread over a year, from 1909-1910. Shankar, played by Kolkata‘s mainstream film hero Dev, dreams of an onset of adventures under the humble shelter of his village, Keyuta. His fortune lands him a station master’s post at the Uganda railway. His passion for the wild intrigues him to follow the footsteps of his idol, Livingstone who was an explorer, but Shankar is aloof from the fact that the station master’s guest house often has unexpected visitors; the poisonous black mamba and man-eating lions.
This screen adaptation undoubtedly boasts of a good story with enough content to keep you engaged, but what it fails miserably at is in the casting of its protagonist. Dev as Shankar is often embarrassing when he mouths the English dialogues with a heavy Bengali accent. To portray the character’s struggle and triumph as sketched by the author, an actor with exceptional acting prowess would do justice to the film.
Shankar, during one of his field trips saves the life of Portuguese explorer Diego Alvarez and soon the latter starts narrating the fable of Chander Pahar or as he says, ‘Mountains of the Moon’. Diego, with his companion Jim Carter had once set to discover the mountains of Richtersveld which apparently had the world’s largest diamond mine. But the age-old Zulu culture mentions a mythical monster Byunip which guards the mine from humans who come in search of fortune, driven by the greed of possession.
Soumik Haldar understands the underlying fabric of this period film. His camera and lighting stay in perfect synchronization throughout the run-time of the adventurous odyssey. Debojyoti Mishra, Bengali cinema’s popular music director composes background music which deems fit for the tense moments that arise at frequent intervals.
The film is exhausting during the last half hour though. The director promotes African tourism more than is required. The non-Indian cast of the film does exceedingly well. As a matter of fact, Gerald Rudolf as Diego speaks Bengali with much more ease than what Dev does in English. The remainder of the film is about Shankar and Diego’s venturesome exploration of the Mountains of Richtersveld which take them through a journey of unforeseen risks and adventures.
Chander Pahar makes efficient use of CG work and adds authenticity to the screenplay apart from a volcanic eruption sequence which has been least worked upon. The film takes time to build the viewer’s interest, but if you have the patience to invest in a director’s vision, then Chander Pahar won’t disappoint you. The film defers from any unwarranted song sequences and adds mileage to the story. Watch the film to explore a prospect of commercial viability which would be missing in Bengali films if it were not for directors like Kamleshwar and Srijit Mukherjee to add this lacking dimension.
By Soham Bhattacharyya