I am a typical North Indian who grew up watching Hindi films. And like most North Indians, Indian cinema equaled Hindi films for me. However, education brought me to South and courtesy my hostel friends, I was introduced to the world of regional cinema. And soon I realized that some of the outstanding films made are NOT always in Hindi.
Chander Pahar is my first film of 2014 and happens to be my second Bengali film in the theater. The first was Aparna Sen’s ‘Iti Mrinalini’. And I must say that I wasn’t disappointed. After a long time, I have enjoyed watching an adventure film so much and I couldn’t help but write about it. So, here I shoot!
Chander Pahar is based on Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay novel by the same name and as my Bengali friends tell me it is considered to be one of the finest novels in the Bengali literature. The story is about Shankar Roy Chowdhury who has got himself a job in a jute mill in his village but he yearns for a life full of adventure and risks as he is influenced by explorers like Marco Polo and Livingstone about whom he grew up reading. Luckily, he finds a job in South Africa and then starts his eventful journey in Africa.
The first half of the film is about Shankar’s encounters with the African wild as a station master at Uganda Railways. The sequences involving the wild animals are directed so well that you can’t take your eyes off the screen when Shankar escapes the man-eater lion in the dead dark-night or when the black mamba snake crawls onto his bed. Watch out for the moment when Shankar opens his eyes and finds the snake staring at him from a few inches; the terror and discomposure on his face is just so real! One of my favorite scenes was when Shankar uses himself as a bait by drenching him into animal blood to catch the man-eating lion. The best part about the film is that it is shot with real animals and none of them are graphically developed barring the tacky ‘Bunyip’. Remember Dharma Production’s ‘Kaal’? Made at approximately the same budget and it was also shot with real lions but what a farce it had turned out to be! The makers can learn from Kamaleshwar Mukherjee.
The second half of the film is about the journey of Shankar along with his explorer friend Alvarez to the ‘Mountain of Moon’ and the innumerable hardships they face. The film however loses its steam in the middle with the totally unwanted sequence of volcano eruption. May be I would have liked it had it been done more skillfully. The whole sequence seemed too fake and much of it was because of the shoddy graphics. But, given the budget constraints which Indian films suffer, I think I can ignore it. Following it, Shankar’s expedition through the caves, forests and desert stretches is splendid.
We have been mostly shown the ‘gorgeous’ locations of South Africa in the films but Chander Pahar shows us Africa minus the South. The cinematography of the film is just brilliant and one of the major reasons why the film works. You cannot help but fall in love with the natural landscape of Africa. The shots in Drakensberg mountains, Kalahari desert and Kruger National Park are breath-taking. Interestingly, this is the first film to be shot in Kalahari after a gap of 17 years. In an adventure film, it is always crucial that you get the cinematics correct and Chander Pahar doesn’t disappoint.
The actor Dev Adhikari breathes the character and there is a lot of sincerity in his work. Be it is the childlike enthusiastic Shankar eager to take the quest to the Chander Pahar or the bereaved explorer fighting for survival. India doesn’t have a great history when it comes to adventure films and I doff my hat to director Kamaleshwar Mukherjee for making Chander Pahar. It needs courage to make a film without songs & dance with two men wandering around in the jungle for 2.5 hours. Though made at a budget of just 15 crore it looks so large and glorious on-screen. Hope the Hindi counterparts can learn a thing or two who
spend waste crores on shitty films. The film would have been even better if it was edited well and had a better background score as most of the time it adopts the usual tunes associated with Africa.
Chander Pahar is the story of courage, endurance and determination. The film also subtly leaves the message of humans destroying the nature as one of the dialogues says “Beasts don’t kill. It is the human greed that kills”. Last but not the least a life lesson for all of us; “It is better to travel than to arrive”.
I would suggest you to drop everything that you are doing and arrive in a theater near you. Venkatesh Films has released it with sub-titles. Take this journey and you can thank me later!