Review Goopy Gayen Bagha Bayen

Report – Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne

by Kaveri Narang.

A presentation on the popular childrens’ film “Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne’ by Satyajit Ray, was made by Monali Chatterjee at the Bookclub session on Sunday 13th March. Monali made a very vivid and interesting presentation with her verbal commentary being supplemented by scenes from the film.

Monali began by giving a brief background to the film, which is based on a short story authored by Satyajit Ray’s illustrious grandfather, Upendrakishore Ray Chowdhury. The film was Ray’s first childrens’ film and was released in 1969. It proved to be a major critical and commercial success, running for eight and a half months, which was unheard of for Bengali movies. The movie has all the ingredients which would  appeal to children – fantasy, humour, adventure, the triumph of good over evil, even a chance encounter with ghosts which results in the lovable duo who are the unlikely heroes of this story acquiring magical powers, with the bumbling young underdogs finally finding their feet, and thus a happy ending for all.

Monali first presented the basic story line of the film, which was also Ray’s first musical. The film is based on the adventures of the lovable duo, Goopy (whose full name, Gopinath Kyne is briefly introduced before his identity is firmly associated with the short-form Goopy) and Bagha. Goopy was the impoverished son of a village grocer with a passionate love for singing, even though he was tone-deaf and could not sing in tune. Bagha on the other hand loved playing the Dhol, a popular percussion instrument used for folk festivals, but he was an atrocious player! Each was the resident of a village with a whimsical name – Amlaki in the case of Goopy and Haritoki in the case of Bagha. Goopy was banished from his village by the irate king whom he was trying to impress with his singing. Bagha was also turned out of his village because of his appalling Dhol playing. Both met in a jungle, initially hostile to each other, but when faced with danger in the form of a prowling tiger, the two discover common cause and thereafter become inseperable. Their singing and drumming in the forest attracts dancing ghosts in a wondrous scene which seems almost hallucinatory in its special effects, and is the part of the film which has attracted enormous critical attention particularly among the adult population. After the ghost dance, the King of the ghosts, happy with the duo, grants them three wishes, only available to them as a pair. In a telling choice the young musicians ask for neither wealth nor status. Instead they ask for and receive the following boons:

  • They can get food and clothes whenever needed by doing what would now be described as a high five.
  • They are given a pair of magic slippers with which they can travel anywhere they want to go to.
  • They become talented musicians who are able to hold their listeners in awe (literally, their music renders people motionless).

The pair travel to the kingdom of Shundi, where though all the citizens are mute, they live harmoniously together, Hindus and Muslims. The benevolent king of Shundi appoints them court musicians. However, the king of Halla (the long lost twin brother of the king of Shundi) is planning to attack Shundi, after being drugged with a magic potion by his cunning chief minister, (the potion has also made all the Shundi people mute)  made by the old court sorcerer, Barfi. None of the characters in the film are vicious, not even Barfi, who is portrayed as disorganised and slapdash. Goopy and Bagha travel to Halla in an attempt to prevent the attack, but are captured instead. The citizens of Halla are starving and unhappy, and their kingdom is as joyless as Shundi is full of contentment. Goopy and Bagha lost their slippers when captured and hence cannot escape the jail by magic, but manage to do so by luring the famished gatekeeper with their boon of delicious foods. They are thus able to stop the advancing army of Halla by exercising their third boon, the ability to so mesmerise their audience with their musical skills that the army is rendered motionless.  They then astutely invoke their power to wish for unlimited food and sweets, which rain from the sky on the starving soldiers who forget the battle and settle for filling their bellies. Not only this, their singing shakes of the effect of the evil potion given to the King of Halla, who far from capturing Shundi, reunites happily with his brother. The people of Shundi also get their voices back. For their resourcefulness in averting the war, Goopy and Bagha marry the daughters of the two kings of Shundi and Halla respectively, and all is well thereafter.

That the film had cinematic impact is well acknowledged. Also, film maker Anurag Basu named one of his films Barfi in tribute, and emulated the rain of sweets (in his case cakes) from the skies in another of his films. While this film has much to engage children, who were among its delighted viewers, the film also has much for the adult audience to reflect on. As Monali pointed out, it can be viewed as a political satire against an oppressive establishment. She also perceived it as a disguised fable on the lines of George Orwell’s Animal Farm. Incidentally Salman Rushdie paid tribute to the film in his Haroun and the Sea of Stories with the Chupwala people, and the fish named Goopy and Bagha, also partners.

The film also has significant undertones which reflect the sociocultural and historical environment of the times the story is set in, and is forthright in its rejection of war, which one of the songs in the film refers to as futile and avoidable. The caste structure of village society is reflected in the group of Brahmin villagers maliciously sending Goopy, whom they consider to be an upstart inferior being aspiring to sing classical raags, to certain doom by encouraging him to sing for the king. The fascinating dance of the ghosts depicts them in four rows, broadly corresponding to the Varna structure of traditional Indian society. In deliberately relegating Brahmin ghosts to the lowest tier is there an implicit message that Ray is seeking to convey? After all the village Brahmins responsible for Goopy’s expulsion were also shown engaged in an indolent game of dice when he unfortunately interrupted their absorbing preoccupation! The ghost dance sequence is accompanied by the mesmerising rhythm of several Indian percussion instruments, and the special light effects sometimes seems to reflect principles of Indonesian puppet theatre.  The topmost tier of the ghosts consists of kings, who in Ray’s depiction range from Puranic to contemporary times, including the Mughal period. The next tier of ghosts are the peasants, again including tribal and agricultural, both Hindu and Muslim united in a stylised dance performance. The third tier is reserved for British ghosts among whom Ray depicts Warren Hastings with a pistol referring to his infamous duel, Rober Clive and Cornwallis among others, reflecting the colonial  history of Bengal. And the last layer includes Brahmins, depicted as corpulent and bloated. However in a gesture of fairness, Ray depicted the benevolent ghost king as a Brahmin, as depicted by the sacred thread across his torso.

Following her presentation Monali very competently engaged in a lively discussion with members who had queries about or observations on the film.  

Nityaasha Foundation