Writer and Director: Sandip Ray
In the broader programme of the UK Asian Film Festival, it is great to see different genres showcasing the variety of filmmaking from this region and Sandip Ray’s Professor Shanku O Eldorado is a rare international action-adventure story that takes its characters away from India and into Indiana Jones territory as a famous scientist looks to reclaim his inventions.
World renowned scientist and inventor Professor Shanku is invited to a conference in Sao Paulo where he will be presented with an honorary doctorate and be the subject of a celebratory exhibition of his inventions, but the wicked Professor Bloomgarten is desperate to buy the patents. When Shaku’s new Secretary sidekick – a man who developed special powers after being struck by a lightning ball – disappears with Shanku’s rival, the trail leads the scientist and his colleagues on an expedition to find the mythical city of El Dorado.
Based on an original story by Satyajit Ray, there is a charm in Sandip Ray’s ambitious film that unusually puts a set of mature academics at the centre of a light-hearted quest built around practical scientific authority and exploration rather than the infeasible stunts and high-octane drama prevalent in Hollywood equivalents. Professor Shanku O Eldorado is never played for laughs but its tone is jovial, setting out to entertain and there is nothing like it anywhere else in the festival programme.
The film neatly divides into two halves, spending some time establishing Shanku’s credentials and almost magical inventions including a hologrammatic video conferencing system, an annihilation beam that proves useful against a predatory jaguar and a pill that cures all diseases. This part of the film also sets out companion Nakur’s indefinable powers as well as the tension at the conference in Brazil. The second half sees the characters venture out in the jungle on their mission, taking in the leafy landscapes, city sights and stunning waterfalls.
The representations of Brazil are clichéd with painted tribesmen, poisoned darts, scary rainforest creatures and fears of cannibalism, and there are no notable female characters anywhere in the film. Professor Shanku O Eldorado also forgets about the film’s frame in which a journalist is given Shanku’s diary at the start, but suspend your disbelief as there is still much to enjoy in Ray’s unusual approach that builds to a CGI recreation of the mythical city.
Dhritiman Chatterjee is authoritative and kind as the eminent Professor, modest in his creation of world-changing technology and eager to help a local man who arrives for a Sherlock Holmes-style consultation. Exactly what Nakur’s special abilities are is a little vague but Subhasish Mukherjee gives him a likeable oddball savant quality and a credible friendship develops between the two men.
There is a lovely animated title sequence designed by 4DVFX Studios filled with science equipment that mirrors the crazy gadget-filled lab given to Shanku early on, and Ray employs lots of American adventure film tropes that he makes his own. Professor Shanku O Eldorado feels like an outward-looking movie from an industry on the rise.
The UK Asian Film Festival runs nationwide and online from 26 May until 6 June 2021