A downbeat summer evening at a Bengali household would be a family of four lying in front of the television, changing channels, looking for a fun release and coming across Hirak Rajar Deshe – I was ten when I first watched it and I have never stopped. Such is the timeless sparkle that Satyajit Ray embodies and visualises, that brings the likes of Soumitra Chatterjee, Tapen Chatterjee, Rabi Ghosh, and Utpal Dutt together in one fantasy land.
Hirak Rajar Deshe (In the land of the diamond king), made in 1980, is a dystopian tale that touches all the notes of a satirical comedy, an engaging musical-drama, and a thought-provoking sequel. The brilliantly written story begins with Goopy and Bagha, the legendary musically magical duo of idiots from Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne, who take center stage and visit the Kingdom of Diamonds.
In the land of Hirak Raja, played convincingly by Utpal Dutt, the kingdom keeps filling up with diamonds, citizens are exploited and starved, education is banned, and any rebellion is dealt with in the ‘brainwashing chamber’ named jantarmantar, built by one of the king’s scientists, Gobeshak.
An authoritarian regime in a child’s fable: sounds different? However, it did not hold Ray back from stepping up and weaving a story so hauntingly relevant to this date. The direction is such that it fuses the classic elements of a child’s fable – improbable physical and verbal comedy, the rhyming dialogues, and the catchy songs – with critical concerns of national and ethical significance that somehow fit impeccably. One significant feature to mark these critical concerns is the declared ‘enemy’ of the state, Udayan Pandit, a professor turned rebel, who additionally becomes the only character in the film speaking in dialogues and not rhymes. The character lives in exile on the outskirts of the kingdom, carrying out classes in secret; played by Soumitra Chatterjee, Udayan Pandit becomes heavy in symbolism and adds meaning to the film through his strong demeanour. His ability to break the rhyme scheme symbolises his ability to break barriers, his moving into exile right on the outskirts amidst abandoned mines symbolises his moving beyond the fear Hirak Raja sets off. Udayan Pandit, perhaps, becomes Ray’s mouthpiece, from his belief in moral values, which threaten Hirak’s idea of authority, to the significance he sets on education, which Hirak denounces, saying, “Tara joto beshi podhe, toto beshi jaane aar toto kom maane” (The more they read, the more they know and the lesser they bow). Udayan Pandit represents everything that has the power to fell Hirak’s authority and, perhaps, any authoritarian, fascist rule: education and values. Ray marks out the significance of an educated youth pertaining to the famous saying “today’s children, tomorrow’s future” when Udayan Pandit is shot teaching children. The film revolves around Goopy and Bagha finding Udayan Pandit and plotting against the king to bring peace and happiness back to the land. The comedic tropes of Goopy and Bagha are heavily used while fooling the king, and their well known magical prowess takes us back to the original elements of Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne.
Hirak Rajar Deshe was once merely an enjoyable watch for the kid of ten I was; I would sing along with the songs and find myself amused at the rhymes. The depth of it did not come to me until I was re-watching it for the 18th time a few years back; however, the progressiveness and visionary dystopia of the film must not go unnoticed today for it becomes an essential watch for all ages, in the most fun way: with Goopy’s singing and Bagha’s dhol becoming the beats that stay with you, the renditions of Tagore’s music that make one smile, alongside the grave (and fitting) circumstances that keep one thinking.
The film has become a significant part of our lives, for me and every Bengali kid, but it stands today as a message to break the barriers of culture, language, region; it details the potential of moving beyond these imaginary borders and establishes itself to be a film of significance, meaning and revolution for everyone.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.