Satyajit Ray started writing Shanku stories in the 1960s. He only wanted to write a single short sci-fi/fantasy story about a genius but recluse inventor. But Professor Shanku became so popular that Ray had to write a series – and it became one of the most popular sci-fi/fantasy series in Bangla literature.
This is why, when the announcement came of a Shanku movie, the wait for something as good as Ray's writing began!
Whenever a literary character is brought to the silver screen – an obvious comparison is drawn between the character in the book and its silver screen incarnation.
Hopes were high when the widely admired professor Shanku was brought to life by none other than Ray's son, and a famed director in his own right, Sandip Ray.
Though the filmmaker tried his best to stay true to Professor Shanku's character and make the audiences nostalgic – I set aside my prior knowledge of the character and watched the movie as a stand-alone entity.
The movie begins with a tale of a missing scientist and inventor Professor Shanku and how his diary was found near a crater believed to be created after a meteor hit the outskirts of Kolkata. In that diary, Shanku tells the story of his adventures in Brazil and the legend of the lost city of El Dorado.
Narrated by the Professor, the story tells of a simpleton named Nakur Chandra Biswas. Nakur believes he attained supernatural powers after being hit by a mysterious lightning ball. He warns the Professor about his imminent journey to Brazil and the dangers surrounding it. The Professor decides to take Nakur along with him to Sao Paolo and things start unfolding from there.
The movie script is a compilation of two Professor Shanku chronicles: Byomjatrir Diary (Diary of an astronaut), and Nakur Babu O El Dorado (Mr Nakur and El Dorado).
Dhritiman Chatterjee plays the role of the iconic Professor. However, the veteran actor fails to capture the imagination with a stale performance. His acting is unconvincing, and at times he only stares at the camera with the hope of something happening. An actor of his experience and prowess was wasted by a poorly written screenplay, to say the least.
The main antagonist Solomon Bloomgarten (played by Fernando Coelho) is so poorly constructed and portrayed that not for a single frame did he look menacing or villainous. Most of the time the character is rather too cartoonish and frail acting from Coelho does not help the cause either.
The same can be said about the second lead of the film, Nakur Babu, played by another seasoned actor Shubhashish Mukherjee. Nakur came across as someone who is forcefully trying to be funny while being gentle and naïve all the time. He too failed to engage the audience when he describes or narrates an incident.
The biggest let down is the screenplay. It is unevenly paced; the action and mystery sequences are not at all gripping. At times it is so stagnant that it is hard to remain invested in the film at all.
The film has a run time of 92 minutes. It was shot in a big canvas and in great locations in India and Brazil, the background music is decent, so are the visual effects. But those were the only good things about the film, which do not save it from being a train wreck.
Finally, to sum it all up, Professor Shanku O El Dorado is a massive disappointment. Rather than going for the extravagance, the director should have gone for better storytelling technic and screenplay. This one failed short of portraying the true brilliance of the famed Professor who we all love very much and have revered for so long.