A balcony in the shape of an upturned jhumka; a throne that appears to be a brocaded turban; a chandelier that resembles a shimmering weaver bird’s nest; rainbow-hued elephants, mojris with eyes and a ghost who looks like a curio out of a Bengal state handicrafts emporium. Playfulness with colour and form suffuse every frame of Shilpa Ranade’s animated movie Goopi Gawaiiya Bagha Bajaiiya, an adaptation of Bengali writer Upendrakishore Raychowdhuri’s Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne. Raychowdhuri’s comic fantasy was most famously adapted for the screen in 1969 by his renowned grandson, Satyajit Ray, but Ranade’s treasure chest of a movie might just build up its own following.
The 78-minute musical adventure, which will be premiered at the prestigious Toronto International Film Festival in September and later travel to the Busan International Film Festival in South Korea in October, is a bejewelled feather in the cap of its producer, Children’s Film Society India. Ranade has imagined the world of off-key singer Goopy and tone-dead drummer Bagha as a thickly woven, multi-hued and brocaded quilt, with enough texture to the two-dimensional marionette-like characters that make you want to stroke the screen. The movie feels like a richly illustrated book come alive, and deliberately so. Its origins lie in a translation of Raychowdhuri’s book by poet and lyricist Gulzar, which Ranade was supposed to illustrate. “I started off with the drawings, and then I thought I could do something else to take it ahead, so I decided to do prints,” says Ranade, who teaches animation for the masters of design course at the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay (IIT-B). “Then I thought that this would make a wonderful film, and it grew out of that.”
The flat, two-dimensional figures and backdrops, and what Ranade terms a “staccato feel” to the animation, grew out of the roots of the project. “The drawings dictated how the film should be animated,” she explains. “It doesn’t belong to the classical style at all, which has full fluidity and a three-dimensional feel, but follows from the drawings. We could not do full animation, because that would have meant a lot of money and time and people, so we found a way to address the drawing style and the time constraints.”
Over two-and-a-half-years in the making, Goopi Gawaiiya Bagha Bajaiiya is a modest production by international animation standards—not more than 20 people were working on the film at any given point, Ranade says. The pacy screenplay, by her husband, film-maker Soumitra Ranade (his company, Paperboat Animation Studios, worked on the project) and the irreverent dialogue and lyrics by Rohit Gahlowt point to the intended target audience, which is children, but adults can also soak in the production design and the cheerful soundtrack by the trio Three Brothers and a Violin. The characters and backdrops have been created out of computer-generated swatches of textile prints and upholstery—everybody and everything, from the dim-witted but well-meaning musicians whose adventures take them to the lands of Shundi and Hundi, to the kings and ministers, and the palaces and prisons, are dressed in colourful patches. “Almost everything is inspired by fabric, even the grass,” Ranade says. The resultant texture offsets the lack of kinetic movement in the movie, which might surprise fans of butter-smooth Studio Ghibli and Pixar animated films. “The design superseded the amount of animation,” Ranade says.
The idiom governing her debut feature is Indian, but the influences are international, from East European to Canadian. The 47-year-old film-maker graduated in applied art from the Sir JJ Institute of Applied Art in Mumbai, and later studied visual communications at IIT-B and animation at the Royal College of Art in London. She has worked on animated films for Channel 4, among others, and started teaching at IIT’s Industrial Design Centre in Mumbai in 2001.
Ranade’s debut feature is not an “animated version of Satyajit Ray’s movie, though the skeleton belongs to the original”, she says. The screenplay mostly sticks to the original, but there are some tweaks. The ghost king, who is the only person impressed by the musicians’ cacophony, grants them four wishes rather than three. Woven into the story are messages against war-mongering and for peace and inclusiveness.
The characters are drawn like dolls, but they are also slightly grotesque, with bulbous eyes, misshapen teeth and curiously shaped bodies. “They are very lovable and endearing, but they are not cute,” Ranade says. “I can’t make a cute film, I think.”
Goopi Gawaiiya Bagha Bajaiiya will release in theatres later this year.