Ray’s children’s fantasy is his first major commercial success and became a cult movie in Bengal. It is a fairy-tale about ghosts and kings written originally by his grandfather and published in 1914. The impoverished amateur musicians Goopy (T. Chatterjee) and Bagha (R. Ghosh), banished for their inept playing, receive a magic pair of slippers from an animated ghost-king which allow them to travel anywhere they like. They can also conjure up food. They become master performers, arriving in the kingdom of Shundi whose king (Dutta) makes them his court musicians. The twin brother of this king (Dutta again), who rules neighbouring Halla, is held prisoner by his despotic and warlike prime minister (J. Roy). The musical duo are captured by the prime minister but they escape and, with a series of magical effects, overthrow the villain and live ‘happily ever after’ having married two princesses. The film mobilises a range of sources from Lewis Carroll to the bawdy Bengali jatra, held together by the sheer cinephilia which animates the performances, the sets and the soundtrack. The high point is the spectacular ghost dance followed by the rhyming dialogue of the ghost-king amid flashing lights. The dance, nearly 7’ long and set to percussion music, calls on mime, shadow puppetry and Pat painting traditions and is shot with shimmering effects and negative images to tell of the four classes of colonial society: well-fed Brahmins, kings, peasantry and the colonial bureaucracy. The melange of musical styles, from keertan to Carnatic, and local folk idioms, as used e.g. for Barfi the magician (Chattopadhyay) talk of war, power and greed. Ray felt the film was probably unique, although it coincides with French, British and Italian comic-strip-inspired films of the mid-60s. Ray made a sequel, Hirak Rajar Deshe (1980), and his son Sandeep continued with Goopy Bagha Phere Elo (1991). Salman Rushdie, in a tribute to the enduring appeal of this loveable duo, introduced them briefly in his children’s novel Haroun and the Sea of Stories (1990).
Did you know?
The voice of ghost king in this film is given by famous director Satyajit Roy himself. Read More