Yes, you read this ShukerNature article's title correctly – an African bunyip, not an Australian one. Allow me to explain.
One of the most famous Bengali adventure novels is Chander Pahar (retitled as Mountain of the Moon in subsequent English-language translations), which was written by Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay, an Indian writer in the Bengali language, and was originally published in 1937. Just under a decade ago, it was turned into a blockbuster Bengali movie that I have long wanted to watch, and finally succeeded in doing so a fortnight ago, thanks to local friend and Amazon Prime subscriber Jane Cooper, who very kindly enabled me to watch it at long last by purchasing it on AP – thanks Jane!
Directed by Kamaleshwar Mukherjee, released in 2013 by Shree Venkatesh Films, and set in the years 1909-1910, Chander Pahar follows the exciting (albeit sometimes positively Munchausenesque!) adventures of a 20-year-old Bengali man named Shankar Ray Choudhuri (played by Indian movie/singing megastar Dev). He has long dreamed of being a derring-do explorer in Africa, but seems destined to spend his life much more mundanely, working as an administrator at the local jute mill in his small Bengali town instead. Happily, however, fate steps in, in the shape of a relative who secures for Shankar a job in Kenya, as the station-master of a tiny railway terminus miles from anywhere.
This posting becomes the vital stepping stone that Shankar has long sought, to set him on the path to becoming a daring African explorer. Many thrilling exploits duly follow, so be sure to click here in order to read my comprehensive plot description and review of Chander Pahar on my companion Shuker In MovieLand blog. Some of these, moreover, are so implausible that Baron Munchausen himself may well have thrown up his hands in despair!
However, the movie's principal focus is Shankar's eventful journey with an older, veteran Portuguese explorer named Diego Alvarez (played by celebrated South African actor Gérard Rudolf) to an inhospitable and virtually inaccessible arid land of high hills and even higher mountains known as the Richtersveld, situated in the northwestern corner of what is today South Africa's Northern Cape province. They are seeking a legendary diamond mine supposedly hidden inside a cave deep within a mysterious Richtersveld mountain known as Chander Pahar – the Mountain of the Moon.
According to local legend, however, this diamond mine is fiercely guarded by the cave's monstrous inhabitant – a gigantic beast still-undescribed by science, but which for reasons never explained either in this movie or in Bandyopadhyay's original novel is known here as the bunyip (despite the latter name being in reality an aboriginal name specifically applied to Australia's most famous indigenous mystery beast!). It turns out that the bunyip has already killed one explorer who accompanied Alvarez during an earlier attempt by him to locate the mine and relieve it of some of its hidden treasures. Will history repeat itself during this latest expedition, in which Shankar is now Alvarez's companion? I'll leave you to read up the full storyline here on my Shuker In MovieLand blog, and concentrate now in this ShukerNature article upon this movie's cryptozoology content – the bunyip.
Chander Pahar has proved hugely popular – having grossed US$ 3.41 million worldwide so far, it is the second highest grossing Bengali movie of all time (indeed, the only Bengali movie to exceed its takings is Amazon Obhijaan, released in 2017, which is itself a sequel to Chander Pahar, once again centering upon the character of Sankhar, but this time the action takes place in South America). Nevertheless, it has not been without its critics, especially among literary purists who believe that it has taken too many liberties in adapting Bandyopadhyay's novel for the big screen – but none more so than with its presentation of the bunyip.
In the novel, the bunyip is never directly seen – a shadow of it moving outside the tent of Shankar and Alvarez one evening is as much as is offered to the readers, leaving the rest to their imagination. In contrast, this movie presents the viewers with a truly memorable CGI bunyip in all its hideous glory, and gory activity, but which some reviewers have denigrated for destroying the monster's mystique, and others for what they considered to be its inferior quality (similar criticisms regarding their quality, or lack of it, have also been aimed at a CGI-engendered volcanic eruption).
As revealed here via the above series of photo-stills, the bunyip is undeniably a startling creation – unlike any beast known to science, that's for sure. A waddling, feline-faced abomination with a swollen, toad-like body and an exceedingly long, whip-like tail, plus a huge and revoltingly-vascular, pendant throat-sac, livid crimson in colour and hanging down so far that the creature seems in permanent danger of tripping over it when galumphing after one of its potential human victims. Most noticeable of all, however, is its pair of truly enormous vertical fangs that any prehistoric sabre-toothed cat would have given its high teeth for (so to speak!). (In fact, a Kindle e-book edition of Bandyopadhyay's novel actually depicts the bunyip on the front cover as a bona fide living sabre-tooth.)
Interestingly, however, this terrifying apparition does recall a traditional African mystery beast known as the dingonek (click here to read my extensive ShukerNature article surveying this and various other comparable African cryptids, the so-called jungle walruses). Moreover, the dingonek is actually mentioned in Bandyopadhyay's novel in addition to the bunyip. In contrast, as noted earlier, I have yet to discover why Bandyopadhyay applied the name of an exclusively Australian water monster to his terrestrial African mystery beast.
According to traditional African lore, conversely, the dingonek is amphibious in nature, i.e. both an adept swimmer in rivers and a formidable adversary on land – so why didn't Bandyopadhyay simply call his monster the dingonek instead of distinguishing it from the latter? Notwithstanding this etymological enigma, there is no denying that the climactic scene featuring a veritable duel to the death between Shankar's inventive brain and the bunyip's immense brawn is a highlight of the entire movie.
So, if you'd like to experience for yourself a glimpse of the thrills and spills that Shankar experiences during his search for the Mountain of the Moon and its hidden diamonds, be sure to click here to watch an official Chander Pahar trailer on YouTube showcasing its very stirring title song. (You can also watch the entire movie free here on YT, but only in the form of an Odia-language version with no English subtitles, sadly.) And don't forget to click here if you'd like to view an excerpt from Shankar's chilling confrontation with the belligerent bunyip! And for further details regarding the dingonek and other African sabre-toothed cryptids, check out my recent book Mystery Cats of the World Revisited.