“Chander Pahar,” a beloved Bengali adventure novel written by Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay in 1937, is not an easy book to bring to the big screen. Key plot points include an erupting volcano and a prehistoric-looking beast, not to mention deadly spiders, snakes and lions.
Some fans of the book voiced concerns about a movie adaptation, and it turns out they had reason to worry. The movie’s editing mishaps, unbelievable scenarios, overuse of music and computer-generated fakery distract from what should be a great adventure.
The story follows Shankar (Dev), a young Indian man beset with wanderlust. He can hardly believe his good fortune when he lands a job as a station manager along a Ugandan railroad, which means he’ll be living alone in the wilderness of Africa visited by people only when the train makes its brief daily stop.
Much of the first half of the film is occupied with Shankar’s introduction to the dangers of the land, such as a lion that he manages to outrun. In case that feat doesn’t seem improbable enough, the filming and editing should dispel any illusions that it might happen in real life.
The latter half of the movie involves Shankar’s friendship with another adventurer, Diego Alvarez (Gerard Rudolf), and their journey to find riches in the Richtersveld, a mountainous desert region in South Africa. Diego had attempted the same voyage before, but the trip ended in tragedy when his companion, Jim, was killed by the supposedly mythical Bunyip, which looks like a stegosaurus with a goiter. But Diego agrees to try again, given Shankar’s interest in exploration. The scenes unfold as a series of mishaps — death-defying cliff climbs, poisonous trees, stampeding animals, earthquakes — punctuated by Diego and Shankar bonding. Their quest-fueled friendship calls to mind Sam and Frodo from “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy.
Director Kamaleswar Mukherjee shot the film primarily in South Africa, and the vistas and animals are breathtaking. In some ways, the movie feels like an excuse to go to Africa and film wildlife. The source material ends up shoehorned between splashy images of springboks and hippos, and any gaps are filled with CGI. But when adapting an acclaimed book, it’s probably smart to let the plot steal the show.
Not rated. At AMC Loews Rio Cinemas 18. Contains blood and violence. In English and Bengali with subtitles. 148 minutes.