‘Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne’ is a 1969 Bengali movie by India’s greatest filmmaker Satyajit Ray. Based on his grandfather’s short story, it tells the story of Goopy, a singer, and Bagha, a drummer in rural Bengal. These men are thrown out of their villages into the forest, because, well, their music isn’t pleasing to the ears of the village folk.
One night, in the forests, the King of Ghosts makes an appearance, and grants them three boons. The first, is that there never would be any scarcity of food and clothing for the musical duo. They only need to clap each other’s hands and they’d get all the food they’d need. The second boon provides the pair with magical shoes that would take them anywhere they want. And the last, third boon, it’d make their music a thing of beauty.
With the three boons, it looks like they have everything any man would want, but Bagha points out, they do not have a roof on their heads, and they also have no wives. Bagha also points out, that as far as houses go, a palace is most desirable, and as far as women go it is best to have a princess. So, they begin their quest to find themselves a couple of princesses.
What travails they’d have to go through in this quest, that’d be the remainder of the plot.
The most impressive part of the film is the sequence involving the King of Ghosts and his entourage. It is a pretty big sequence classical Indian dancer ghosts, British sepoy ghosts, and so many other kinds of ghosts. The Indian dancer ghosts appear smoky, wavy, and they don’t seem to have a concrete form. And this adds a kind diabolic quality to their already hypnotic dance. I don’t know how Ray managed to film this sequence.
Over the years, both the story and the film have seeped into Bengali culture as is evidenced by the two sequels that followed the movie, and the new, animated remake of the film, Goopi Gawaiya Bagha Bajaiya.
At nearly two hours, the original movie does seem to drag a little, but at seventy-four minutes, the newer version takes us on a smoother, quicker ride. It also not only adds color but also brings some fresh perspective into Indian animation. Much like what ‘The Secret of Kells’, another wonderful animated movie, does with Irish perspective-less paintings of the medieval period, ‘Goopi Gawaiya Bagha Bajaiya’ does with the art of Indian puppetry.
Watching those perspective-less frames in ‘The Secret of Kells’ would actually challenge you, asking you to make sense of what you’re seeing.
Similarly, everything in ‘Goopi Gawaiya Bagha Bajaiya’, the hands and legs with respect to the body, the wings of the windmills with respect to the thin tall frame of the mill, the big fat tummies of the kings, everything seems in a to and fro motion, controlled by invisible threads, like we see in puppetry.