Writing for the Open magazine in 2011, Ajit Duara lamented that “Goa…never had a reliable recorder of its history, at least in cinema.” Bollywood depictions, he further explained have been responsible – despite few good movies on Goa – for the lack of serious engagements with Goa’s history and culture. From the time such an assertion was made, it seems that the dearth of both filmmakers and serious engagements are gaps that are being slowly filled. However, it would be erroneous to think that before the present crop of filmmakers there were no films made about Goa and Goans. Indeed, the decades from the 1950s saw a few films like Amchem Noxib (1963, Our Fate) and Nirmonn (1966, Destiny) being produced, which today are considered as classics in Goan cinema.
And if there is a growing bunch of Goan filmmakers making unique movies that have a deep appeal amongst the Goan populace, what are the conceptual and intellectual issues that Goan directors face? In other words, what makes a film ‘Goan,’ assuming that there is a thing like a ‘Goan’ film? “Honesty,” emphasizes Bardroy Barretto, the director of the much-loved Nachom-ia Kumpasar (Let’s dance to the Rhythm). Barretto’s labor of love brought alive the jazz scene in Bombay, and the immense contribution of Goan musicians in fuelling that industry, including Bollywood music. Barretto feels that the cinematic language of Goan films is “trying to be Bollywood,” thereby suggesting that it needs to move in a different direction. He explains that the honesty in the story comes in the form of having “enough subtext of Goa” in the form of the level of detailing done by the filmmaker. By taking care in developing the character – such as the spoken language used in the dialogues – makes the film authentic to the culture, Barretto feels, for it is “only then that the film is worth for other audiences.”
“I don’t know if films can be constrained within regions,” says Dnyanesh Moghe, director of the film Digant (Boundless). Moghe is not interested in labels, it seems. He reasons that the problems that he depicts in his work – those of identity, freedom, the suppression of self-expression, and spiritual problems are universal. Like the title of his film, Moghe also sees himself as boundless: “I am a global citizen. I don’t believe in nationality, though I am an Indian.” Of course, Moghe does not deny the influence of Goa in the creative process. But he emphasizes that it is only incidental: “Stories come to me from my surrounding, which is Goa.”
Laxmikant Shetgaonkar, director of the critically acclaimed Paltadcho Munis (The Man Beyond the Bridge), feels very strongly that “language” is more important in understanding the categorization of films. “There is nothing called ‘Goan’ cinema,” he asserts, “there is either Marathi, Konkani, or Malayalam cinema.” Rajendra Talak feels that Goan cinema – or “regional films,” according to him – “highlights issues connected to Goa. They depict the culture of Goa.” All his three films Aleesha, Antarnaad, and O Maria focused on the problems of the mining industry, music practiced by two generations within a single family, and the property and land disputes respectively. In fact Dharmanand Vernekar, another Goan director feels the same that Goan films depict the issues that come along with “Goenkarponn – the Goan identity.” “Good cinema,” he says, “should portray what is happening in society. It cannot simply be fiction.”
While we can see a difference of opinion on the topic of what makes a film ‘Goan,’ many of the Goan filmmakers interviewed feel that movies sacrifice much to the altar of commerce. As Goan filmmakers there is also the implicit responsibility of exploring the authentic lives and culture of the people of the land. For instance, many of the new movies released in Goa have an aesthetic drawing upon the Christian-inflected culture of Goa, indeed set in Christian cultural milieus; churches and wayside crosses, therefore, are not just religious marker but also markers of culture featured prominently in films. This is significant as much of the cinematic portrayal of Goa imagines this state as influenced by Southern European and Christian culture. Such a process can be seen, no doubt, in the countless Bollywood films set in Goa, but this appears to be a different process. Filmmakers in Goa are drawing on the popularity tiatr artists, a Konkani art form that draws on, and is set in a Christian cultural milieu. “I agree that there is a pattern,” says Shetgaonkar, wherein the films that are popular draw on Christian cultural markers and those that don’t do not find throngs of crowd watching the films twice or thrice.
Barretto, Shetgaonkar, and Moghe all agree that commercial concerns dominate in such creative choices. “We have stopped looking at films as an art-form. Films are like commodities to be bought and sold.” Practical and pressing compulsions like financing the film, necessitates compromises, says Moghe. Barretto, Shetgaonkar, and Moghe feel that such a creative choice of either prominently using tiatr artists or Christian culture has nothing much to do with the fact that Goa’s encounter with the Christian religion and the culture that it spawned over the centuries.
It is interesting to note, in this context, Moghe insisting that the story needs to be told with “honesty”. The Goan directors feel that Goan filmmakers have the potential to deliver stories that are authentic to the culture – provided that there is a fidelity to the nuances of the story. They feel that the difficulties the filmmaking industry presently faces will go away through a refinement of the creative process.
(A version of this article was first published in The Peacock, 20 November, 2016)