Goonjan: the 1990s Bengali remake of Pillow Talk you never knew you wanted




Every time I rewatch Pillow Talk with Rock Hudson, Doris Day, and Tony Randall (1959)—which is at least once a year, because despite its sexism I adore it—I bemoan the loss of there never having been a Hindi remake in the early or mid-60s. Many of the double entendres would be have to be toned way down, and there might need to be some excuse made for a young single woman living on her own in the big city, but think of the fun stars of that era would have had with the double role and sass and hijinks! Think of the Yash Chopra-esque pastel fantasy world and easy excuse for lavish and outrageous sets! Think of the songs! Think how great Asha Parekh or Mumtaz would have been in that, with Dharmendra as the other lead and Shammi Kapoor as Tony Randall's deadpan, bitter friend* and Lalita Pawar in Thelma Ritter's sharply observant, free-speaking, heavy-drinking maid...or Sharmila Tagore, Dharmendra, Pran,  and Nadira.

Swap in and out whoever you want, but one thing is for sure: in order for the hero double role to work, conveying swagger, smarminess, and humility, Rock Hudson would translate as Dharmendra. He's the actor who can embody the character's long analogy of a man being a mighty tree in the forest. He's the actor with the combination of comedy skills and unsubtle sex appeal to create two roles that audiences believe women would fall for without a second thought.

You know who Rock Hudson definitely does not translate as? Farooq Shaikh. In the 1990s. Dubbed in Bengali. But that's what the producers of Goonjan decided make. If you can provide any argument as to why this seems like a good idea, please share your thoughts in the comments. It's not that Farooq Shaikh is a bad choice for a double role—obviously he has the acting chops for it—but no one I've talked to can guess why he would have been imported for a film in a language he doesn't speak. While the version of this I watched has no subtitles and thus I can't be certain how the characters in it are fleshed out, almost everything I can discern is a direct copy of the original, so maybe it's safe to assume that the basic character types are there as well. 

There is a particular kind of masculinity at play in the original story that is essential, and all aspects of it must be believable to the heroine: one side of it is a scoundrel who sings the same "personalized" love song to multiple women, another is a too-good-to-be-true down-home, respectful, polite (but not too polite) millionaire, and the third is somehow a workable reconciliation of the others. 
Farooq is unsurprisingly great at the second of these—he is an easy fit as the kind of man a suspicious woman would find appealing—but he has no sizzle, and I don't buy him as a playboy. Maybe it's a language issue; we know he can play bad seeds (Kantha, Shanghai). 

No matter the reason, it doesn't seem that there's really much of an act involved in the actual character Gunjan playing the dream man Ashok. They're not distinct enough. The best line in Pillow Talk is from a tiny bit character, a female inspector whom the phone company has sent to investigate Rock's misuse of his and Doris's party line. When confronted with all 6-foot-whatever of talk dark and handsome, she can barely manage to introduce herself as an inspector. Rock drapes himself across the doorway and says "What would you like to inspect?" Eyes wide, she stammers "You." There is none of that in Goonjan. The plain romance is fine, but the subversion and tension are missing.  

Debashree Roy is the other lead, and she too feels different than the uptight but ready-to-melt Doris Day character. They're both competent professionals living in the big city, but this version seems more worldly and less ridiculous, which in a way is an improvement but also scales back the drama over the impending fallout of the lies. The whole thing is just too relaxed for the tricks to provide any oomph. 


Always shower with a full face of makeup.   

Rounding out the cast are Satish Shah as Tony Randall's role (also dubbed) and Rabi Ghosh as the obstetrician. I think (though could be quite wrong) that Thelma Ritter has been replaced here by an aunt who seems never to leave the house; I don't know if she's also a lush or just a woman of leisure, but she doesn't have the same impact.

Alllllll of that said, I'm still pleased by Goonjan. The surprise of its very existence is certainly a part of my glee, and mega thanks go to Wuthering Willow for alerting me to it. Apparently Farooq Shaikh did at least two other Bengali films (Agni Kanya and Mohini, per friend Calvinator), and I intend to watch them. That this film was made at all and then how it was translated raises interesting questions for speculation and discussion:

  • Why import a hero who neither speaks the language nor is uniquely suited for the role? 
  • Was Farooq Shaikh particularly popular in Bengal at this time? Was Satish Shah?
  • Who would you cast instead? Is Prasenjit the only option?
  • Would you cast Farooq Shaikh in a Pillow Talk remake in any language or time period?
  • Part of Pillow Talk's appeal now, and I assume at the time of its release, was its style. The film drips in rich decor and fancy clothes. None of that is present in Goonjan, which has got to be one of the most cheaply made films I have ever seen, providing neither flash nor class. The material aesthetic is not necessary to the story, exactly, but it helps, since Doris lives in a world of wealth and is attracted to it. This picture is the "nightclub" where the two leads finally meet face to face. This is not a nightclub. This is someone's basement rec room with some balloons taped to the ceiling.
     
  • The street scenes are better, and I think the urban-ness of Calcutta works well enough as a transplant for New York.
    (Do we think this is the same China Bowl as currently in Ballygunge?)
  • Does it not compute beautifully that 90s Bengali cinema's idea of nightmarishly tacky decor is 70s Hindi cinema villain lair?
  • Is a remake even still a remake if goes almost scene for scene the same but doesn't recreate key facets or spirits of the original? 
Goonjan is available for free on the Angel youtube channel. Though if you want my opinion, there are better Bengali remakes of American films out there, namely Chaowa Pawa, the Uttam-Suchitra remake of It Happened One Night (streaming here).

* Yes yes, the objection that Shammi would have to be cast as the lead; my argument is that he'd render the double role too broad, whereas the cranky friend character would be perfect for him.

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