Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne (1968)

There are some films that offer deep, mind-searing insights into human life. There are some that allow one to escape for a couple of hours into a world of make believe where good and beautiful people always win and the bad always come to a sorry end.
And there are films like this one, which I seriously think should be prescribed as an anti-depressant. Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne (The Adventures of Goopy Gyne and Bagha Byne) isn’t  among Satyajit Ray’s most profound works—it’s not in the same league, perhaps, as the Apur trilogy or Nayak. It is, however, one of the most charming films ever made in India, and a sure cure for the blues. I adore this film. Every delightful little bit of it.

Goopy and Bagha

Gopinath ‘Goopy’ (Tapan Chatterjee) is a sweet, somewhat simple-minded villager who has great hopes of becoming an accomplished singer. Goopy, however, can’t carry a tune to save his life, and (what’s worse) is blissfully unaware of this shortcoming. The other villagers trick him into showing off his skills to the local ruler: go to the ruined temple opposite the raja’s palace and wake him at dawn with your singing, advises a nasty village elder, and poor Goopy is easily duped.

The villagers fool the gullible Goopy

The end result is that the raja smashes Goopy’s tanpura and has him expelled from the village, riding away on a donkey. Goopy is a kind-hearted soul and soon lets the donkey go off. But now Goopy’s on his own, and the lonely countryside, with dusk approaching, doesn’t look appealing.
Fortunately for Goopy, he comes across Bagha (Robi Ghosh), a drummer whose skill with the dhol is so abysmal that the raja has chucked him out of his village too.

Goopy meets Bagha

Goopy and Bagha throw in their lot with each other, which is just as well because fate hasn’t finished with these two yet. A wandering tiger gives our heroes a fright, and once that’s gone, the woods around suddenly turn dark. A troupe of ghosts—dressed as soldiers, dancers, old European dandies and whatnot—appear and treat Goopy and Bagha to a protracted performance. The spooks fight each other, dance (even waltz!) and generally put up quite a show.

Ghostly dancers entertain Goopy and Bagha

Once that’s over, the King of Ghosts (who’d put in an appearance at the start of the performance) tells the dumbstruck Goopy and Bagha that he’ll grant them three wishes. I can’t figure out why he’s being so generous to these two (perhaps he’s sorry for them? They are rather pathetic).

The King of Ghosts allows the two friends three wishes

Goopy and Bagha ask for three things:
(a) All the food and clothing they’ll need, whenever they need it,
(b) The ability to travel wherever they want to, and whenever (these are guys after my own heart!)
(c) The skill to entertain people with their music—yes, this was sorely needed
True to his word, the King of Ghosts grants their wishes. Goopy and Bagha need only yell out what they want to eat or wear, or where they want to go (the latter while wearing magical jooties which the King gifts them). Then they do a high-five with one hand each, and hey presto—they’ll get what they’ve asked for. And, says the King of Ghosts as a parting shot, they’ll be able to ‘freeze’ people with the brilliance of their music.

The high five that'll get them their wishes

The next morning, they try it all out. Sure enough, Goopy’s voice is now glorious (and perfectly in tune), and Bagha has changed overnight into a dab hand with the dhol. Just after the two friends have had a massive breakfast, they notice a little cortège passing by accompanied by much singing. Goopy and Bagha’s enquiries are greeted with the news that these people are musicians too, and are off to Shundi to participate in the musical competition to be held there by the Raja of Shundi (Santosh Dutta) to select his court musicians.

A procession of musicians trudges through the land to Shundi

Since Bagha and Goopy have been wondering where they’ll live, this looks like a great idea: go to Shundi, participate in the competition, win it, and get to live in the raja’s palace. Easy as pie! So, with the aid of their magic jooties (and after getting lost a bit because both have forgotten the name of their destination), Goopy and Bagha arrive in Shundi.
Shundi is a rich, fertile land, but with one strange feature: everybody in the land is mute. Goopy and Bagha are taken aback, but trudge off to the raja’s palace. It later emerges that the raja and his family are the only people in Shundi who can speak—they were away from Shundi when an epidemic struck, turning everybody mute.

Goopy and Bagha discover everybody in Shundi is mute

The musicians assembled at the palace are a daunting lot and Goopy and Bagha are suitably daunted.

Amidst some very accomplished musicians...

Until they notice the effect on the raja:

...who put the raja to sleep

All of these proceedings are fairly innocuous. But unknown to the dozing raja of Shundi, far away in the kingdom of Halla, a conspiracy is brewing. The evil Prime Minister of Halla (Jahar Ray) is plotting to attack Shundi and annex all that good land. In these machinations, his most wily ally is the wizard Barfi (Harindranath Chattopadhyay, looking a scream in diamond-shaped dark glasses, a jazzy robe and a helmet with antennae!)

The evil wizard Barfi plots in Halla

The Prime Minister of Halla also manages to get his boss, the raja of Halla (also Santosh Dutta), to agree to the war with Shundi. While the commander of the Halla armies is given orders to get his reluctant and lazy troops in order, Barfi is instructed to create a drug that’ll cure the citizens of Shundi of their muteness—the Prime Minister’s of the opinion that if they can speak, they’ll speak up against the raja of Shundi and rebel. Sounds thin to me.

The commander, Prime Minister and Raja of Halla conspire

And, of course, a messenger is despatched to the Raja of Shundi with news that unless he surrenders within three days, Halla’s army will attack.
The raja has by now selected Goopy and Bagha as his court musicians (naturally! Our heroes surpass all the other musicians). They’ve been installed in fancy chambers inside the palace and are living it up.

Goopy and Bagha are shown to their new quarters

So, when the Halla raja’s threatening missive arrives, Goopy and Bagha are at hand to see the effect it has on their king. The raja fills them in on some more details: the raja of Halla is his brother and used to be a good guy until he inexplicably turned bad and now appears to have flung all scruple to the winds.
This is sobering news indeed, and Goopy and Bagha decide they can’t sit around waiting for Shundi to fall. They persuade the raja of Shundi to let them go to Halla to try and stop the war.

The Raja of Shundi tells Goopy and Bagha about his brother

The raja is initially hesitant—he’s tactful, but it’s obvious he doesn’t think highly of the diplomatic abilities of these country bumpkins. Furthermore, says he, how’ll they get to Halla so soon? It’s all of 160 miles from Shundi (he doesn’t know about the jooties and the duo’s equivalent of “beam me up, Scotty”). Eventually, though, he concedes, and what’s more, promises that if our boys are successful, one of them will be married to the princess Monimala, daughter to the raja.

...And Goopy and Bagha set off

With that incentive egging them on, Goopy and Bagha go off to foil the evil plans of Halla. There are plenty of other adventures in store for them, and the two pals get to make full use of the wishes they were granted. There’s pathos (admittedly absurd), drama, a little bit of inept daredevilry, and romance in store for them—and plenty of laughs for the audience.

What I liked about this film:

Everything, really. It’s sweet, it’s funny, and it’s very watchable. The acting is superb (Chatterjee and Ghosh are especially awesome, as is Harindranath Chattopadhyay as the mad wizard Barfi) and the entire feel of the film is that of a light-hearted frolic that deliberately doesn’t take itself seriously. Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne can’t be classed with fantasy films like the B-grade flicks Bombay was churning out in the 50’s and 60’s: those tried too hard to pretend they were serious about all the magic, the evil, the sorcery and the fantasy they expected viewers to believe. This one, with Barfi’s spells being a hit-or-miss affair, the commander’s troops dozing while he tries to muster them, and the Halla raja making paper cut-outs in his spare time, isn’t trying to be real. It’s an unabashedly farcical fairytale, and absolutely brilliant.

And yes, the music is wonderful: Goopy and Bagha’s folksy tunes are very infectious. The lyrics and the music, by the way, are both by Satyajit Ray.

What I didn’t like:

There are plot holes: small ones, but still. For instance, how come nobody at the music competition at Shundi ‘freezes’ when Goopy and Bagha start singing? And why does the King of Ghosts grant them those three wishes, anyway? There are others too, but I won’t write them here—spoilers, you know.

But then, as I mentioned, this isn’t a film to be taken seriously. It’s a film to be enjoyed, to be laughed over, and to find new things in to love every time you see it. A hugely endearing, delightful masterpiece.

Little bit of trivia:

If you pay attention to the splendid cartoons accompanying the credits, you’ll see they mirror the story of the film.

Cartoons from the credits of Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne
Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne, by the way, was the most commercially successful of Satyajit Ray’s films: in Bengal, it ran for a record 51 weeks. I’m not surprised.

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34 thoughts on “Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne (1968)

  1. Satyajit Ray masala, bad special effects AND Harindranath Chattopadhyay – how can it be anything less than good? :-) I remember enjoying it when I saw it on DD long ago. Need to hunt up a DVD of this and some other fun Ray movies (the Feluda series were quite good, I believe).

    The King of Ghosts looks hilarious!

  2. Yes, this is such an adorable film in all respects! :-) I remembered it from DD days too (I was a kid then, and as far as I remember, the version they showed didn’t have subtitles or dubbing – and I didn’t know any Bangla – but I still loved it).

    I bought this one (with English subtitles, as well as a cute booklet with a reproduction of Ray’s notes and drawings for the film) at a Music World store in Delhi. I guess Induna would probably have it too – I know they have Chiriakhana, which I’ve already added to my wishlist. I’m lucky in that my brother-in-law (a Bengali) is a detective film/book buff and has promised to lend me Shonar Kella.

    Now if only I could find a few more hours a day…

  3. Fortunately for me, a friend recommended that I watch this on YouTube about a year and a half ago. It’s still there, with English subtitles:

    Charming film… My favorite scene was the one with the sweets – what a way to stop a battle! I think I’ve seen this referred to as a “’60s anti-war film.” That kind of makes sense. It had a little of the flavor of some stuff coming out in the West at the time. (Though of course, I’ve also seen very psychedelic Indian movies made in the 1950s ;) …

    I wondered why girls were excluded, for the most part (except near the very end, and those girls aren’t very active characters). Maybe it has to do with this particular story telling tradition? (A little boys’ tale or something?)

  4. bawa: You must see this, it’s such a cute film! And now that Richard’s given the link to the youtube clips, even more of a reason to not wait. ;-)

    Richard: I like the scene with the sweets too; an interesting take on anti-war sentiment! I don’t know if I’m the only one who thinks so, but it seems to me that Ray was, in a subtle way, cocking a snook at stuff that was considered a given in Indian cinema at the time. The film doesn’t conform to the standard villain-hero-heroine-odd monster(s) fantasy film; nobody takes themselves really seriously, everybody is clownish to some extent or the other, and yet it isn’t all slapstick. Perhaps it’s my imagination, but I think there’s more to Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne than just a cheery and light-hearted tale.

    Yes, the girls were rather conspicuous by their lack of ‘activity’, weren’t they? I wonder why; I’m not familiar with the story-telling traditions of Bengal, but considering Bengal’s favourite deity – Kali – is a woman, I’d have thought women would’ve played a more active role even in traditional folklore.

    This film had two sequels too; am now looking out for them. :-)

  5. Thanks for the memories! I Remember watching this film as a kid with my dad. Couldn’t understand the rest of the movies (it was some sort of Satyajit Ray festival I guess) but I watched this one in its entierty, though I was a big fan of Dharmendra movies at that time (aged 8 or 9 I guess). Later, I came to know about some Hrithvik Ghatak too, but never got to see any of his movies.

    Great write-ups here about the olden-golden stuff! Cheers!

  6. Thanks for digging this up, dustedoff!!!!
    You have made the film even more interesting, I think. :-)

    I’d never heard of it, and it seems unique (at least to me) and interesting. I also didn’t realise that Satyajit Ray made such films. I always imagine him as the Pathar Panchali guy.
    I’m also impressed that it was such a success.

    The Raja looks like the Air India maharaja

    The ghost-performance looks like a ‘shadow performance’.
    This seems to be popular in Bengal. I remember during Durga Puja celebrations in my locality this would be an important item.

    What are the sequels called? I might as well buy them together.

  7. I have this :) Hope it has subs (my version I mean)…looks lovely. I do have one little quibble with your post—I don’t think the fantasy films Bombay was churning out took themselves seriously at all. I think they were just meant to be loopy entertainment, which they really are :-)

  8. pacifist: Satyajit Ray was acclaimed for films like Pather Panchali but in my opinion, he was loved for films like Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne (and its two sequels) and crime-detective films like Chiriakhana, Joy Baba Felunath and Shonar Kella. I have still not been able to get hold of all of the others, but the search is on! The sequels, by the way, are Heerak Rajar Deshe and Goopy Bagha Phire Elo. Interestingly, they were made much later – in 1980 and 1991, respectively.

    memsaab: Ah, well – to each his/her own, I guess! Somehow, from stuff like Parasmani, I got the idea those guys were at least trying to depict something fantastical… somehow the flavour of Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne is very different, as if Ray is poking fun at the entire ‘fantasy film’ genre. Let me know what you think when you’ve seen it!

  9. Thanks dustedoff.

    Good news!!! :-)
    BOTH the sequels are available at Induna.

    One sequel is spelled as following;
    Hirak Rajar Deshe

    ‘Heerak’ doesn’t give results.

    As for Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne, it is out of stock for the moment. Hopefully I’ll get it once it is available.

  10. Hi Madhulika, sorry, it’s not relevant to the review you posted, but since your e-mail ID is not there, and I really want you to write something about the following, so here’s my “wishlist”… :)

    1. Madhumati (movie as well as music)
    2. The White Balloon (an Iranian flick by Jafar Panahi; just fabulous I think)
    3. Do Bigha Zameen
    4. Jaget Raho (Raj Kapoor; watch it for Moti Lal and the songs ‘Zindagi Khwab Hai’ and ‘Roshe Wai-Wai’ and Iftekhar’s gang and Raj Kapoor’s eyes)

  11. That wishlist is sweet of you! Okay, here’s my response on these:

    1. Madhumati: Yep, am putting it on my rental queue. Have seen it a few times but wouldn’t mind seeing it again (especially for the music, which is superb)
    2. The White Balloon: Haven’t seen it, but my parents keep raving about it. I don’t think I’ll ever get around to reviewing that, because I keep this blog pretty strictly confined to films from up to about 1970. A few films may be from 1971 or even 1972 (Pakeezah, for instance) but that’s mainly because they have a 60’s flavour to them.
    3. Do Bigha Zameen: I reviewed this a while back. Beautiful film; you can read the review here.
    4. Jagte Raho: Another film I’ve yet to see (I’m not much of a Raj Kapoor fan), but I love Zindagi khwaab hai.

  12. Hey dustedoff, I always read your blog & today is the first time i’m commenting. I’m a bengali (though not from India, but from Bangladesh) & reviewed one of my most favorite films today!! Yay!! lol — and your review makes me want to see the movie one more time! 8-D

    This movie is based on a story written by Upendrakishore Ray Chowdhury — Satyajit’s grandfather. I read that one also — though I’m not sure if that itself was based on some fable (AFAIK, it’s an original work). From the book, and from what I remember from the movie , the King of Ghosts grants them those wishes because he absolutely LOVED their music. I guess it shows that we humans & them ghosts have different tastes after all ;)

  13. Oh, and about girls being excluded from the story.. umm, i guess it’s because Goopy & Bagha are the protagonists, & the plot of the movie doesn’t require female characters (given the time the story was set when females didn’t play an active role outside the household)?

    Plus, Bengal’s folklore is mostly like that — lot of it is based on how a poor guy comes across some treasure, and uses it to improve his conditions; or wins the favor of the king by doing something; and/or to defeat some demon which stalks the village people. Female characters are often of the sweet or nagging wife; or a she-monster. They have varying degrees of influence on the story, but can’t recall anything on the top of my head that has a girl/woman as the protagonist in those tales!!

  14. Ranya, thank you for commenting! :-) I knew the film was based on Upendrakishore Ray Chowdhury’s story, but haven’t read that. If the King of Ghosts liked Goopy and Bagha’s extremely amateurish music, his taste must certainly be very different from that of humans!

    Interesting insight into the role of women in Bengali folklore… actually, in Bengali society as such. I read, not so long back, a delightful book called How to be the Goddess of your Household – a collection of early 20th century articles aimed towards young brides, with sage (often ludicrous) advice on just about everything from recycling old clothes to cooking baigun bhaja to taking proper care of the household cow, to (of course) worshipping one’s husband. Hilarious, but also a thought-provoking insight into the society of that time.

  15. bollywooddeewana: Yes, the DVD on induna is the same one I’ve got – the Big Home Video version. The booklet is kinda cute, with its copies of Ray’s original notes and drawings for the film. It’s unfortunate that most of that is in Bengali and with no translations of captions or notes, but even then.

    Someone told me the other day that the cartoons during the credits are Satyajit Ray’s. Looking again at the booklet, I’m inclined to think so too… they’re very alike.

  16. With reference to your last comment on Ray’s cartoons, fyi, prior to his foray in films he worked in publishing as a designer of book covers, etc. In a fascinating documentary by Shyam Benegal (uploaded on youtube), Ray speaks about how he drew the entire script of Pather Panchali scene-by-scene and took it along to make the sale to the producer. The documentary lingers lovingly on some of his art work. Probably an inherited talent from his father Sukumar Ray who did the illustrations for his much-loved nonsense verse (Abol tabol,. etc.). Bongs have speculated for some time now as to where George Lucas (or his artistes) got the inspiration from for “Yoda” as he looks much like “Huko mukho hangla”. [Am doing my bit here to keep the idea alive from Memsaab’s recent posts that EVERYTHING originated from India :-)]

    Here’s the link to the Ray documentary (in English, 13 segments) on youtube.

  17. Suhan, thank you so much for that link. Am going to go check it out (and the rest of it too) right away.

    I didn’t know Ray had worked as a designer of book covers etc. What a multifaceted personality – a modern day da Vinci? I love the Feluda stories too.

    Oh, Huko mukho hangla is Yoda to a T! Yes, along with rap and the Maypole, this is definitely another example of things that originated in India :-))

  18. dustedoff, if you have time, do peruse http://www.satyajitray.org/bio/index.htm. The wikipedia page http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Satyajit_Ray also offers a bio, but the latter is somewhat incomplete. Aside from being a film director, SR was a designer of typefaces, artist, highly popular short story writer, music composer and later, art director at an ad agency. Quite a package.

    BTW, one of his least-known but best films is a 27-minute short called Pikoor Diary (a k a Pikoo or Pikoo’s Diary). Too bad the YouTube version http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kVZLoouRiNg&feature=PlayList&p=6932ADB51643B1C3&index=0 does not have subtitles – if you have a Bong (Bengali) friend, he/she might be able to help.

  19. Goopy and Bagha were much simpler, and golden-hearted than the other literary creations of Ray- the genius Shanku, the cool Feluda, and Apu. Tapen Chatterjee and Rabi Ghosh were masterful actors with brilliant comic timing, and their chemistry unmatched. With master Ray’s perfect direction in place, Goopy and Bagha captured the essential Bengali character. They would break out of prison by offering the guard a tasty fish and stop wars by raining magical sweets from the heavens.

    I wonder how something so ‘childish’ could have such layers and meanings below their surface. Even today, when I’m depressed I remember Bagha saying- ‘Tumi koro giye chinta. Pet bhore khabo, pran bhore ghurbo’ (Why worries! I’ll eat till my stomach is full. I’ll wander (sing and dance) till my last breath). The sadness we feel today is not just for the passing of a true artist. It marks the end of a magical age when movies were works of art, stories were simple, soul ruled over special effects, and characters stayed in our hearts long after the end credits had rolled. It is hard to digest that for the final time- Goopy will sing no more!

  20. No, no, don’t be so pessimistic. As long as media survives, Goopy will go on singing!

    But you’re so, so right. This is such a lovely film, only superficially childish. There’s an exuberance and a deep understanding of human nature that makes it very uplifting in ways that surpass race and creed and everything else. A gem! It reminds me in some ways of the Spanish film Bienvenido Mister Marshall!: that too is outwardly hilarious, but deep down has much more to say.

  21. The reason Halla minister wanted the people of shundi to speak was “because if they didnt speak, it is possible to know what they want..and then to stop them getting what they want?”..

  22. Came upon this post via another blog. Nice summary. I had a comment about one of your grouses – that no one freezes in Shundi’s court when G&B perform. They DO freeze! But towards the end of the song, Bagha claps his hands. That releases them from the freeze and they sway to the rest of the song.

  23. I have seen this movie since I my childhood days, and your review just made me want to watch it yet again! Regarding the absence of women, I think the social structure doesn’t have anything to do with it. In fact, I remember reading a folktale “malanchamala” about a girl and her adventure to save her frail prince husband who happened to be 12 yrs younger to her, and there a lots of others. The story that Upendra Kishore wrote, centers around Gupi Bagha’s adventure, it really doesn’t have any subplot where their fiances could have been shown to be participating/helping. For Satyajit to bring in a female character, it would have required to replace one of the main characters, like instead of Shundi’s king, there could had been a queen. But while Santosh Dutta was an iconic actor in the role, I cannot remember any actress who could have done a similar justice to the role. The lack of females in this story is similar to little red riding hood having a grandmother, and not a grand father and the only male wood cutter appearing at the very last page.

    • It’s actually been quite a while since I watched Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne, too – the last time I saw it was when I wrote this review. After that, I lent my DVD to some relatives, and they haven’t returned it yet!

      Thank you about that observation regarding the women. Yes, put that way, it makes complete sense.

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