THE BOOTLEG FILES: “GOOPY GYNE BAGHA BYNE” Image

BOOTLEG FILES 180: “Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne” (1968 musical fantasy created by the great Indian filmmaker Satyjait Ray).

LAST SEEN: We cannot confirm the last public screening of this film.

AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: None.

REASON FOR DISAPPEARANCE: One of many Ray films not easily available for viewing.

CHANCES OF SEEING A DVD RELEASE: Maybe someday.

India’s Satyajit Ray holds a curious distinction as being considered among the world’s greatest filmmakers – even though the bulk of his creative output is not readily available for viewing. Only a scant handful of his films, including the classics of his “Apu Trilogy” (“Pather Panchali,” “Aparajito,” “The World of Apu”) can be found on American DVD; other titles were once available on American VHS and old copies of those out-of-print releases can still be located.

One of the most fascinating Ray films that was never released in the United States is his 1968 musical fantasy “Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne” (also known as “The Adventures of Goopy and Bagha”). For a filmmaker who is highly regarded for his serious, often intense studies of human frailties, “Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne” comes as a delightful surprise – Ray, it appears, not only possessed a great sense of humor but also enjoyed a stunning talent for musical cinema.

“Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne” was produced following an aborted attempt by Ray to launch an ambitious Hollywood project called “The Alien.” In 1967, he wrote a screenplay about a friendly extra-terrestrial who is stranded on Earth. The screenplay was optioned by Columbia Pictures, though exactly what happened next has been a matter of debate. One source claims Columbia copyrighted the screenplay without Ray’s permission, which seems very peculiar (misappropriation of intellectual property would easily open the studio to a lawsuit). There was also a question of whether Marlon Brando, a Ray fan who was interested in the project, was going to appear in “The Alien” (Ray supposedly did not want James Coburn, Columbia’s choice of a replacement, in the Brando role). Years later, Ray would later claim that Steven Spielberg’s “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” bore a more-than-coincidental resemblance to his screenplay of “The Alien” (Spielberg denied ever seeing or even knowing about the Ray screenplay).

Unable to make a fantasy film in Hollywood, Ray opted to create one in India. Adapting a classic story written by his grandfather, Upendrakishore Ray, he also created the musical score, costumes and choreography for this production, which promised to be of a grander scale than his previous work. But the proposed budget for this film began to balloon, forcing Ray to cut costs by shooting the film in black-and-white (color was reserved for the surprise final shot).

“Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne” follows the unlikely friendship of two severely untalented young musicians. Goopy is a grinning bumpkin who yearns to be a great singer. However, his attempt to serenade the local maharajah with a morning raga results in his being banished from his homeland. Wandering through the woods, he finds a soulmate with a similar problem: a would-be drummer who also got banished. Goopy nicknames his new friend Bagha Byne (tiger-like drummer) following their chance encounter with a tiger.

If the living are unimpressed with Goopy and Bagha’s music, the dead love it. In what may be one of the most astonishing musical sequences put on film, the ghosts of the forest perform a six-and-half-minute dance for Goopy and Bagha. The dance sequence is actually four separate numbers intertwined into a phantasmagoria of styles and moods (an eerie traditional Bengali dance is laced with satirical choreography mocking class pretensions). The sequence concludes with the arrival of the blue-skinned, gold-toothed King of the Ghosts, who grants Goopy and Bagha three wishes. They wish for the ability to have instant access to food, to travel anywhere they desire, and the ability to perform their music so everyone will love what they create. Their wishes are granted and they are each given magical slippers that helps fuel their wishful desires.

The duo wind up in the Kingdom of Shundi, where the local monarch is holding a contest for new court musicians. Shundi is an odd place – no one outside of the king appears to have the ability to speak. Goopy and Bagha sweep the competition and become both court magicians and royal confidants.

The King of Shundi tells the pair about his twin brother, who is the King of Halla, a neighboring principality. Halla is actually controlled by an evil prime minister and a malevolent wizard (who wears diamond-shaped sunglasses!), and they are preparing a war against Shundi. Halla’s king is kept drugged and used strictly as a puppet.

Goopy and Bagha, using their music and magic, infiltrate Halla and manage to stop the war just as the Halla troops are about to charge into battle – on camelback, no less. They even find the potion to restore speech to the people of Shundi. For their bravery, Goopy and Bagha get to marry the daughters of each king (one daughter per man, of course – after all, only kings can have harems!).

“Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne” gets a lot of its energy from its stars: Tapen Chatterji as the tall, somewhat dim but good-natured Goopy (his singing is dubbed in by Anup Kumar Ghosal) and Robi Ghosh as the short, squat, scowling Bagha. The real riot, though, are the supporting players: Santosh Dutta in a dual role as the twin monarchs, Jahar Ray as the eye-rolling evil prime minister, Prasad Mukherjee as the wonderfully eerie King of the Ghosts, especially Harindranath Chatterji as the wildly wicked magician Borfi. The actors overplay their roles with the exaggerated fun and fury of a Christmas pantomime – and the effect works within the context of the film’s fantasy-adventure settings. Ray’s songs are also beguiling, moving the story along with a cheerful pep.

“Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne” was Ray’s most commercially successful film. In many Indian theaters, the film ran for a year. The web site SatyajitRay.org quotes a letter that the filmmaker wrote six months after its release: “It is extraordinary how quickly it has become part of popular culture. Really, there isn’t a single child in the city who doesn’t know and sing the songs (from the film).”

Unfortunately, the film didn’t enjoy equivalent success beyond India. The screenplay’s fondness for Bengali puns and slang didn’t translate easily and jokes that would’ve delighted the local audiences required additional explaining via subtitles. Furthermore, the film’s music was not universally appreciated (even today, exported Indian musicals do not find commercial success beyond the Indian expatriate communities). While “Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne” won a few awards on the festival circuit, its commercial viability was severely limited – as far as I know, it was never theatrically released in the United States.

Last year, “Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne” was one of 17 Ray films restored by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences (AMPAS). However, the restored print is still in the AMPAS vaults – there is no temperature-controlled film vault in India that could hold the restored version. Since the restored version is not available, older worn-out prints are still circulating. But these prints have clearly seen better days – they are so drained that even the surprise color shot at the film’s end look monochromatic.

Recently, Ray-loving bootleggers have been posting clips from “Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne” on the Net (they seem to come from an Indian DVD one can easily buy off eBay). The ghost dance sequence has turned up several places, and one bootlegger has even extracted the film’s various musical numbers up for YouTube viewing.

Hopefully, the fully restored “Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne” will find its way into commercial release. It is a fun and entertaining endeavor that shows a playful side to Satyajit Ray’s many, many talents.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material is not widely appreciated by the entertainment industry, and on occasion law enforcement personnel help boost their arrest quotas by collaring cheery cinephiles engaged in such activities. So if you are going to copy and sell bootleg videos, a word to the wise: don’t get caught. The purchase and ownership of bootleg videos, however, is perfectly legal and we think that’s just peachy This column was brought to you by Phil Hall, a contributing editor at Film Threat and the man who knows where to get the good stuff…on video, that is.

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