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Ray vs Ray: The case of Professor Shanku

  • Published at 02:38 pm March 22nd, 2020
Professor Shanku
Professor Shanku O El Dorado

The film was released theatrically in Kolkata in December 20, 2019 and is streaming from March 22

Scientist and inventor Shanku, with the help of a clairvoyant stranger Nakur Chandra Biswas, embarks on a journey to the heart of the Amazon forests in search of the mythical kingdom of El Dorado. A team of Brazilian scientists and adventurers tag along in this race to uncover the illusive treasure of this fabled "city of gold", that had been believed to be a fantasy until Nakur uncovered its secret location.

With this storyline, one of Satyajit Ray's popular fictional characters, Professor Shanku, was brought to the big screen for the first time by his son, Sandip Ray, last December. Now, the film, Prof. Shanku O El Dorado, is streaming on Hoichoi from March 22.

Sandip inherited Ray's copyrights, but did he inherit the maestro's directorial vision?

The film, definitely not intended to please any critic or film festival, has an Indiana Jones flavour to it that transcends time. It has a treacherous jungle full of anacondas, jaguars, and crocodiles. The waters of Xingu river are infested with piranhas, where cannibalistic tribes lurk at the bends. Hidden cities made of the purest gold allure good and evil adventurers alike, only, in this case, a host of Brazilians follow the lead of two, very non-white, Bengali men, who don't eat raw monkey brains for dessert. 

The screenplay trails the narration of Ray's 1979 short story, which was written in a diary entry format. While the reliance on exposition through long dialogues works on paper, on screen it impedes the visual journey, chipping off dimensions from the central characters. 

The film deviates from the book in a few minor ways. To make it more contemporary, the professor and Nakur exchange phone numbers, instead of addresses. Their guide faces a jaguar, not a venomous spider, which would be far less dramatic and would deprive Shanku of a chance to demonstrate his famous invention- the "Annihilion" gun. The agitated tribe throws poisonous arrows at them, not at some Japanese travellers we don't know or see, providing Shanku with an opportunity to work his "Miracurol" medicine.  

Acting performances are quite underwhelming, except for the character of Nakur. Most of the dialogues were clearly shot in English and later dubbed in Bangla. The result is maddening. The VFX spells too-ambitious-for-the-budget throughout the film. But, thanks to Dad, Ray's story is captivating enough to sustain the tension till the end. 

There are several loose ends that will nag the audience after finishing the film, especially when the end credits start to roll and we are reminded of the very important characters we saw in Act 1, never to resurface; like what happened to the journalist who was investigating the whereabouts of the professor in the opening hook or how and when the professor disappeared, which seemed to be the premise at the beginning.  

Was it worth watching? Absolutely, if you haven't read the book. But perhaps reading Nokur Babu O El Dorado from Satyajit Ray's Shanku Ekai Eksho is more worthwhile for those who would prefer imagining their own versions of El Dorado, minus the low budget special effects.

Sandip is currently filming yet another Feluda film. His last work before Professor Shanku was Double Feluda (2016), starring Sabyasachi Chakrabarty.

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