It takes some special kind of talent to make a boring film out of Satyajit Ray‘s most exciting character, and that too when he is making his on screen debut. Prof. Trilokeshwar Shanku has been a brilliant enigma for many of us since the very childhood, we have only been amazed by his brilliance and his very special inventions, even his pet cat Newton is a work of science (or art?)! His adventures have had repeated reading value and has left us wowed every single time. But then Sandip Ray has some special powers when he can convert such a thrilling central character and his dazzling universe to a film that goes as flat as possible. That is the world that Sandip Ray creates with Professor Shanku o El Dorado.
One big issue that the film grapples with from start to finish is the casting of Dhritiman Chatterjee as Prof. Shanku. Now we all know how sharp an actor Chatterjee is and how brilliantly has he been used by Satyajit Ray from Pratidwandi to Agantuk. But there is a certain cold aura of Chatterjee, a certain manicured sophistication around him that just not fit into the very endearing and to an extent apon-bhola Professor Shanku that we know. For the entire 93 minutes duration of the film, we see a polished, cold, introverted, sometimes angry Chatterjee on screen but never identify him with Prof. Shanku, even when Sandip Ray spends more than enough time to introduce and establish his scientific world in a painfully slow first half where practically nothing happens.
In fact the only character who somewhat lights up the screen whenever he gets there is the endearing Subhashish Mukhopadhyay playing the important anchor character of Nakur Chandra Biswas in the film. It is a simplistic performance, but somehow works given the script anyway doesn’t attempt to scratch beyond the juvenile. The rest of the cast is novice at best, delivering caricaturish performances and further bringing down any artistic merit of the film.
There are elements of the film that you wonder why they are even there in the film. For example, there was no reason to start the film in 2019 and spend the first five minutes to set up a completely unnecessary context for a flashback. And no, it does not invoke any nostalgia for Byomjatrir Diary. Was it just an excuse to somehow include the opening long shot of the film of the rainy night? But then it would have still made an impact if that well executed camera shot was letting us into the wizard professor’s world. Similarly, while Sandip Ray goes more gizmo friendly to create the Shanku universe, but his execution vision is so basic that it may not even be amusing for the kids. And the lesser we speak about the special effects of the film the better, it is terribly tacky across the board. Standing in 2019, it is a shame that the introductory film on the most advanced and accomplished fictional scientist suffers so much on technical grounds!
One could have possibly overlooked all of this had the film still managed to create some sort of thrill and entertaining value, given the script takes you on a ride to jungles to Amazon in search of the elusive El Dorado. After all, the filmmaker and the production house has tried to create enough hype around the fact that the film was so technically challenging that they had to take years to plan, execute and refine it. After all, they were working with one of the most dazzling literary materials from the treasure trove of Satyajit Ray. After all, it was the jaw dropping aspirational awe of the world of Professor Shanku. But all the awe and all the adventure vanishes in thin air in Sandip Ray’s most uninspiring and flat film. Was it Annihillin in action that helped vanish all the thrill to perfection?