Once upon a time, there was a king…

Growing up as a Bengali kid living in Ranchi, my parents were afraid that I would lose touch with my “culture”. The fact that even now those parts of our country are heavily influenced by Bengal seemed to be lost on them. Anyway, since I had to be properly educated, I was introduced to Bengali music, literature, and movies. I was being force fed a lot of it, hence, I ended up not learning to read the language until I reached my 30s, a fact that I rue every single day!

I was very young when Satyajit Ray died, but I do recollect the grief in my household the day he passed away. The kind of influence that one man could exercise over the conscience of a community was maybe too much for a nine-year-old to grasp. Still, I wanted to see if I could tap into the once in an eon genius. It was suggested to me that I start with Feluda (his dashing detective which, in my opinion, was meant for Amitabh Bachchan), and the Goopy-Bagha movies.

Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne (which means Goopy Sings and Bagha Plays) is the first movie in the series. The two lead characters are given superpowers by the Ghost King which are essentially made from the three prime Bengali obsessions, travel, food and music. The story was written by Ray’s grandfather Upendra Kishore Roychowdhury, who was a genius in his own right. Ray not only directed the movie but also was the costume designer, music director, and lyricist for the same. My first brush with The Man was every bit worth the hype.

Yesterday, I wanted to introduce my four-year-old daughter to the same movie. This was me using the time-tested means of dipping a child’s feet into Ray’s world. Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne being a musical has a surfeit of songs. Most of them are fun numbers made for easy listening (although the arrangement in “Halla Cholechhe Judhhe is anything but simple!), still, there are examples in the movie which give a glimpse of the famed understanding of human complexity.

“Ek je Chhilo Raja, Tar bhaari dukh” (Once upon a time there was a king who was very unhappy)

I had heard the song earlier, but that must have been in the 20th century. I had completely forgotten that hidden in this fantasy was a piece of such tranquil profundity. The music arrangement is simple, the background is a dotara and an ektara playing together. It has been sung beautifully by Anoop Ghosal, and on the face of it, the lyrics are simplistic as well. In the song, the poet asks about the pathos of a king who seemingly has all the resources that anyone can ever want. He asks if the king can ever find happiness by punishing his own subjects, by venting his frustrations. The final stanza asks the king to leave his golden throne for once and go out into the fields and breathe in the fresh air to seek joy and comfort. Ray conjures up a song which is brilliant but gentle like a captivating sunset, something which embalms your heart as it ends its journey. However, when you listen to the song more carefully, you are almost taken aback by the preternatural wisdom on display. What if, the poet felt that his creation found echoes in all our lives? Come to think of it, we clearly have more resources than our fathers, but are we happy? We are running from pillar to post, trying to find time even in we are encircled by instruments which proclaim efficiency. We are surrounded by people struggling with their emotions, suffering from depression even, when from the outside you would think that their lives are perfect. We vent, we hunt for solace, but where does it take us?

Ray was an intellectual of colossal proportions whose work transcended borders and generations. He could not only make movies on elaborate topics but infuse humanity in them like few people in the history of mankind have. However, in this case, he used the medium of a simplistic children’s fantasy to tell the coming generations about the pitfalls of largesse. Perhaps, he tried giving an important life lesson to the audience so that we would look at the world differently, and maybe, just maybe, make it a better place for all of us.

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