Soumik Datta was only a young boy when he watched Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne, a fantasy-adventure movie by legendary Indian Bengali filmmaker Satyajit Ray.
“It was a seminal childhood experience,” says the London-based Soumik in an e-mail interview. “I loved the rudimentary special effects used in the teleporting scenes,” he adds.
What the acclaimed British-born Bengali musician did not know was the sort of impact the movie would have on him. When Soumik returned to this fantasy film years later, it finally hit him. It was not a children’s movie at all.
“It was a satire on power in colonial India, and at the heart of the film was a deeply philosophical message about peace.”
The 32-year-old’s description of Satyajit’s 1969 movie is spot on. The story follows two village musicians with special powers (bestowed upon them by the benevolent King of Ghosts) as they travel through time and space, against the backdrop of a monochrome rural India.
“That’s when I knew I wanted to work on this project, to revive it, to collaborate with this Satyajit Ray work on screen,” says Soumik, who plays the sarod, an Indian stringed instrument.
In 2014, Soumik, alongside Austrian conductor Johannes Berauer and Irish bodhran player Cormac Byrne, co-composed and arranged new music for the King Of Ghosts project. What resulted was a brand new score for the movie, weaving Indian folk rhythms and rich orchestral textures into a delicious, atmospheric experience.
King Of Ghosts, the musical and cinematic experience, was also commissioned by the Edinburgh Mela Festival in 2014. It has since toured several British cities, and it also played at the World Sacred Music Festival in Fez, Morocco earlier this year.
King Of Ghosts plays at Auditorium Dewan Bandaraya Kuala Lumpur on Sept 27 and 28 as part of the KL International Arts Festival (KLIAF). Scenes from Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne will be projected above the stage and accompanied by Soumik’s live score.
Soumik, Berauer and Byrne will work with members of the National Symphony Orchestra and former members of the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra to bring audiences on a magical musical adventure.
Soumik is no stranger to Malaysian audiences. His first Malaysian tour brought him to Penang for the 2012 George Town Festival and then to KL for Urbanscapes 2012.
Back then, Soumik and Austrian drummer Bernhard Schimplesberger incorporated live music, film and spoken word in the Circle Of Sound project, a multi-disciplinary performance.
Talking about Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne, Soumik believes Satyajit “shifted the paradigm” by incorporating a solo classical Indian instrument in the film’s score. This later became one of the Oscar-winning director’s trademarks. “They set the tone for his films,” says Soumik.
However, Soumik, who completed his Masters in Composition at Trinity College of Music in 2009 and was trained by sarod legend Pandit Buddhadev Das Gupta, recalls reading that Satyajit had wished he had the resources for an orchestral score.
“He always felt that Western music had a fundamental advantage when it came to film scoring,” explains Soumik.
“I wanted to bridge the two musical approaches – the Western voice played by the orchestra, and the solo Indian voice represented by my sarod,” he points out.
Unlike the film’s original score, Soumik says the new score will not carry a whimsical fairytale mood. “When I returned to the film as an adult, I couldn’t see the fairytale any more. And so, the new score is more nuanced and darker than the original.”
Soumik recently collaborated with his brother Souvid Datta, travelling across India and filming grassroots musicians. The result of this collaboration is a six-part film called Tuning 2 You: Lost Musicians Of India and it charts the challenges faced by musicians in rural India. The movie is expected to be released in 2017.