Should you watch it? Of course you should, and here's why. Because the kids will love it, for Dev and the animals.
"I will go anywhere, provided it is forward" — David Livingstone (born 1813).
"Damn right, we say" — Kamaleswar Mukherjee and Dev (reborn 2013).
And that is
for you in a nutshell. Our Tollywood voyagers may have arrived two centuries after the African explorer, but they haven't missed his advice. So there's much effort and a lot of sweat in
. Bullets fly, lions roar, spiders crawl. The director and the actor do their best: marching, plodding, running, galloping — but sadly, never really soaring with the film.
Let's not forget that this outing is a rebirth of sorts for Kamaleswar and Dev, as both step out of their comfort zones. The director is coming off
— critically acclaimed, but commercially unviable. The hero has the masses twined around his little finger, but seeks the afterglow of intellectual praise. So
is their symbiotic embrace, each seeking something from the other. Do they get their money's worth? More on that later.
The storyline follows Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay's classic novella set in 1909 quite closely, with some necessary adjustments. So the gutsy Diego Alvarez, played by Gerard Rudolf, is shown as hailing from Portuguese Chinsurah, which is why he can speak a smattering of Bengali. No such deviations are needed for Shankar though. Just as in the book, Dev's character is a dreamer who wants to travel the world. His journey takes him on an incredible path from his quiet Bengali village to the heart of Africa in search of a fabled diamond mine.
The film scores big on its showcasing of Africa. The landscape is breathtaking and for those of my generation, it's a trip down memory lane to the time when VHS cassettes introduced us to the continent through films like Savage Harvest, Hatari and Born Free. Panoramic shots of the wilderness are like none seen in Tollywood before. The film's high point are the human-animal interactions, which are real and thrilling, especially the lion's attack on Shankar's cabin at night. As for the CGI work, it's uniformly good for a Bengali film, dipping at just two points. One, the volcanic eruption looks amateurish. Two, the team had a blank canvas for creating the mythical monster, Bunyip. So why does the face look like a cross between a walrus and a Cheshire cat?
As in all quest stories, the narrative is linear. There's a mission, a journey and the fulfilment of the mission. Not much to get wrong, you'd think. But for such films, the trick is to have humane interludes that break the big-ticket action and air the story, as it were. Which is why Lord of the Rings needs the banter between Frodo and Sam. Or why Jack Sparrow must have a sense of humour in Pirates of the Caribbean.
stumbles on this count. There are no subtle touches to show the developing friendship between Shankar and Diego. Their interactions are stilted and as a result, the film seems too long. For no fault of its own, the film misses a heroine. Dev looks fluent in the action scenes, riding on horseback, fighting the wild animals. As for emoting, he tries really hard — he's come miles from
here — but the strain of carrying a whole film on his broad shoulders shows.
Kudos to Kamaleswar for thinking big. He's walking a new path here for Bengali cinema and like Shankar, he's dreamt of uncharted lands he wants to conquer. Technically, this film will be a landmark for Soumik Haldar and Subhankar Bhar, who've woven magic with the camera. The music — done by Debajyoti Mishra and Indraadip Das Gupta — is operatic in parts, especially the soaring opening track.
Which brings us to the question: should you watch it? Of course you should, and here's why. Because the kids will love it, for Dev and the animals. Because it's this or
. And because you want to nail that eternal question: does a classic book make a classic film? Bibhutibhushan never went to Africa, but these guys did. And I know who did a better job.