Indian filmmaker Satyajit Ray has left behind a varied repertoire of songs, films and artwork. But one of his most enduring classics is the adventures of Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne. The children’s film follows Goopy and Bagha around the world as they use their magical powers to avert crises. It is replete with parallels about warring nations that remain relevant almost 50 years after its production. In King of Ghosts, Shakespeare’s Globe, Soumik Datta Arts, and City of London Sinfonia bring Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne to life by screening it alongside a live orchestra. At the crux of this is Datta’s sarod – an Indian instrument from the family of lutes.
The production is structured in two parts. The first part is titled Around India with a Movie Camera. Surviving footage of India under British rule is presented, filmed between 1899 and 1947. It includes clips and newsreels from British, Indian and French filmmakers of the time and has been selected from the BFI National Archive’s early film collection. Datta, alongside pianist Al McSween and percussionist Cormac Byrne, provides live music as a soundtrack. Combining the sarod with western instruments lends an ethereal backdrop to this rewind back in time. If the reel risks playing to the western stereotype of India by showcasing the ever poor and “uncivilised”, this is avoided by balancing out the narrative. The British are shown hunting beautiful animals in the same breath as raising their children in India, bringing home the dichotomy of thousands of British families at the time.
Datta is not new to Edinburgh. In 2014, he was commissioned by Edinburgh Mela and the Commonwealth Games to re-score Goopy Gayne Bagha Gyne. Since then, the piece has travelled worldwide accompanied by leading orchestras like the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and London Philharmonic. Some in the audience might struggle with the memory of the original movie score as they remember. But they will be in the minority. For the most part, this orchestral setting of Goopy and Bagha’s reception of three boons from the King of Ghosts which they use to subvert a wicked Minister’s plans is very enjoyable. Bill Barclay does an excellent job as conductor and leads the evening to a crescendo of a finish.