Filmmaker Gulzar tells The Indian Express on how he almost came to work with Satyajit Ray-
Since I had read the stories and poems written by Sukumar Ray and Upendrakishore Ray Chowdhury, I was familiar with the story of Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne. So I was ecstatic when Manikda (Satyajit Ray) asked me to work on its screen adaptation. At that point, he was thinking of making it in Hindi.
Following a message from Hrishida (editor-director Hrishikesh Mukherjee), I went to meet Manikda at Juhu’s Sun-n-Sand Hotel when the latter was visiting Mumbai. He spoke in English in his baritone and gave an idea about the script. Since I already knew the story, it was easier for me to grasp it. However, while narrating the story and explaining the songs, he switched to Bengali.
I promised him that whenever he decided to work on this film, I will go to Kolkata. I kept my word and later met him at Kolkata’s New Theatres to discuss the movie. He wanted to know how I would translate lines such as “Amra sadha sidhe Bangali”. When I told him I would write “Hum toh seedhe-saadhe dehati hain”, he loved it. He wrote down the whole song and gave it to me. I still have it as a souvenir. I was very disappointed when he dropped the idea of making it in Hindi, though the movie he eventually made in Bengali is such a delight.
However, I always had the desire to work on this lovely story. When Jaya Bachchan was the chairperson of Children’s Film Society, India, in the late ’80s, we presented this story with puppets for a children’s show on Doorsarshan. I wrote the screenplay, complete with verses, poetry and songs.
Still, I was not done with the story which provides so much material to explore. As part of my Potli Baba series for Scholastic, I retold the story in an episodic format in 2010. Three years later, I adapted it for the stage and Salim Arif directed it. To give another identity to the play, we called it Googli Jhanak Jhaain, which is the mantra that the king of ghosts uses in the play.
For me, the enduring appeal of the story lies in its adorable lead characters, who represent the innocent common man. Their needs are basic. They wish to eat and travel well and pursue their passions. They are also seeking freedom of expression and peace. This is relevant to our times. We are also struggling for what they are searching for. Give Goopy and Bagha the chequered shirt of RK Laxman’s common man and it would become a forceful expression.
This story will continue to be told and shared. Another person will interpret it in a different way. If I live long, I may do another retelling. My state of mind was anti-war when I wrote the book. Today, the subject of freedom of expression is more relevant to me. If I retell the story, I will probably put more emphasis on that. The story allows for different perspectives to emerge with changing times. That’s the genius of Upendrakishore Ray Chowdhury and Satyajit Ray.
– As told to Alaka Sahani