What are your first memories of watching Satyajit Ray’s 1969 film Goopi Gayen Bagha Bayen?
I saw the film when I was pursuing my graduation. The charm of the film drew me and I watched it repeatedly over the years. Its simplicity and child-likeness makes it thoroughly captivating. The two protagonists are guileless and completely lovable, their travails are yours and you wish all the best things for them. Finally, their wishes come true through the benevolence of the strange and wonderful Bhuter Raja (King of ghosts). The movie was based on a story written by Ray’s grandfather Upendrakishore Ray Chowdhury and has seen many versions. Several of these were brilliantly illustrated bringing the story to life. The tale was thus embedded in my mind as a jigsaw of the many images associated with it, each equally powerful and evocative.
What prompted you to helm an animation film on it?
I had earlier illustrated a book for Scholastic on the same subject titled The Adventures of Goopi and Bagha where Gulzar rewrote the story in English. The prospect of illustrating for the book was exciting as well as daunting. It was almost impossible to come close to the absolute magic of the imagery that came with the story. Yet, along the way, the intimidating aspect of re-visualising and retelling a classic turned into an exciting engagement with what was my own interpretation of the story. While illustrating the book it crossed my mind that the story could be transformed into a wonderful animated film. It was an ideal story with its delightful characters mixed with high fantasy, traversing a path full of exhilarating adventure.
How is your film different from this book?
The images for the book came from a legacy of old woodcuts and printmaking. These were intense and dark. For the film they underwent a transformation and took on a quirky, twisted feel, creating a world that is peopled with idiosyncratic characters in equally improbable settings. The story recalls the original but builds around its skeleton with many new details where our two protagonists meet ghosts, obtain boons, avert wars, marry princesses and help people live happily ever after.
How was the whole process of working on the film?
We started off with the script that was penned by Soumitra Ranade. He adapted it from the original book and also brought his sensibility as a storyteller. This was followed by the screenplay where we added some visual twists that lent themselves to animation. Along the way the look and feel of characters was refined. Rohit Gahlowt penned the dialogues as well as the lyrics, which were written while the music was being scored. Our idea was to have an indigenous feel to the entire film yet we did not want it to belong to any one part of the country. This prompted our music director Narayan Parasuram to explore several musical forms and genres through the eight songs in the film. Animators at Paperboat animation studios worked on different characters and sequences. We added in special effects to enhance the visual appeal and composited the many layers we had meticulously worked on. Animation is a collaborative process. Only when all the parts work well together can one have a worthwhile product. It has taken us two-and-a half-years to make the film.
How difficult was it to ensure that you retain the charm and simplicity that was seen in Ray’s film?
We did not want to emulate Ray’s movie. I don’t think that is even possible. Our take was on the original story. As ours is an animation film it allowed us to create a world and characters that don’t belong to live-action cinema or follow its logic. We have tried to retain the story’s essence but also give it our own twists. The look and feel, movement, imagery, sound and music belong to a unique animated world, which can be thought of as an embellished, many hued, cut-out, pop-up, storybook, quirky world.
Were you apprehensive that the 78-minute film is long for kids?
I’m sure the multiple layers will engage children and the story will carry them along an interesting visual and aural journey that has no room for fatigue. The imagery has visual surprises, the story doesn’t slacken and children will identify with the protagonists.
What were the main challenges that you faced?
The biggest challenge was to realise the vision for the film that we started with, since there were so many processes and people involved. It is important to keep in sight the intended outcome and strive towards it keeping in check each and every small detail so that nothing mars the telling of the tale.
How is this movie different from your earlier projects?
My earlier films have been short works and each has been experimental and personal. In this case, I had to communicate a story to kids in an entertaining manner. Goopi Gawaiyaa Bagha Bajaiyaa has dialogue and songs which I hadn’t used before. My earlier works were more individual in execution.
How did you get the support of the Children’s Film Society of India (CFSI) as producers?
Goopi Gawaiyaa Bagha Bajaiyaa is having its world premiere at the ongoing Toronto International Film Festival. It was screened on September 5 and 7 and will now be shown on September 12 and 15 at the event. The release plans in India will be finalised soon. As a producer, CFSI has been extremely supportive. Its backing will help us take our movie to even the most far-flung areas giving us an opportunity to meet audiences we would never have been able to reach otherwise.
The story in a nutshell
gopinath Gyne (alias Goopi) wants to become a singer but has a hoarse voice. He is driven out of his village for waking the king with his terrible singing after being persuaded by village elders. He meets Bagha, another exile from nearby Hortuki who was turned away for playing the drum badly, in a nearby forest. They start singing and drumming, initially to scare off a roaming tiger, but in the process attract a group of ghosts who are fascinated by their music. The king of ghosts grants them three boons. They travel to Shundi, where the local king appoints them court musicians. However the king of Halla (the long-lost brother of the emperor of Shundi) is planning to attack the town, after being given a potion by his self-centered prime minister that makes him evil. Goopy and Bagha travel to Halla and help capture the king, who makes peace with the King of Shundi. Goopi and Bagha then marry the daughters of the two emperors.