It’s a church that draws people from across class and religion. Now, a film that captures Mt Mary, is headed to the LA festival
When we call Lavy Pinto, a captain in the merchant navy, to fix an appointment to discuss The Mount of Faith, a documentary he has co-produced with his friend Daniel Meinrad (also a captain in the merchant navy), he’s adamant that we watch the film first — even though it means that he must travel from Bandra to Tardeo at 11 pm to hand us the DVD.
The next morning, when we reach Mount Mary Church, Bandra’s famous landmark, we understand why. The 40-minute-long film draws your attention to details of the over 100-year-old church that, despite countless visits, we have missed. Besides just noticing the basalt, limestone and Malad stone that make up the structure, we notice, as pointed out in the film, how the church is shaped like a cross. The film also tells us why we cannot see Mother Mary’s hand holding baby Jesus. In the 16th century [the shrine existed for centuries before the church around it was built], Arab pirates had plundered the shrine and chopped off the Lady’s right arm. A sculptor later replaced it with the statue of baby Jesus.
Among the many devotees that director Etienne Coutinho captures in the film is actor Salman Khan, who discusses his connection with the church
The documentary, filming for which was completed in July 2014, will be screened at the Los Angeles Cinefest this month. The film is a collaboration between Saint Paul Multimedia and Sandhya Films & Creations.
Architect David Cardoz points to the black, cream and brown coloured walls of the church in a still from the documentary
Pinto says the idea occurred to him when he was sitting with his wife on the steps of the church. “The initial idea was to make a film on St Francis Xavier in Goa. But then, I felt, being a Bandraite, why not make one on Mount Mary which has such a rich history?” The documentary has been directed by painter Etienne Coutinho, who claims to be a non-believer in idol worship. “I was adamant that I’d not make a devotional film. I didn’t want it to be a cloying, sentimental film. In the true spirit of documentary, what I wanted to do was open the lens and capture people’s faith as they saw it,” says the Bandra resident. He feels the story of Mount Mary is closely intertwined with the development of Bombay, now known as Mumbai. “By the 16th century, most of the islands and Mahim had been given to the Portuguese. This marks the emergence of Christianity in Mumbai and the emergence of Mt Mary.”
Producer Lavy Pinto with Laxmi Vishwanathan, a language teacher who features in the documentary. Pic/Pradeep Dhivar
The film weaves in voices of pilgrims with the history of the church from the perspective of historians, architects and religious heads. “We would wait at the church all day, and approach pilgrims who were willing to share stories of faith. Some stories came to us,” says Coutinho.
Among them was Romeo Fernando who reached out to Coutinho when he found out about the film. Fernando’s father had been commissioned by Father Longinus to paint the statue of Mother Mary 30 years ago. In the film, he recalls how his father would get debilitating migraines. “As he started painting, he prayed to mother Mary and sought help for the ailment. Miraculously, after he was done with the painting, we never saw him getting the headaches.”
The film also features language teacher Laxmi Vishwanathan, whose aunt was diagnosed with a terminal illness in 2008. Vishwanathan recalls visiting the basilica, praying fervently for her aunt’s recovery. “The best doctors in the city had said she would not survive. But one fine morning while she was still in hospital, she turned to her husband and said, ‘darling can I have a cup of tea.’ What more can I say?” she says, her voice choking with emotion.
A big draw of the film is that it features actor Salman Khan, but not as we know him. Sitting in the premises of the church, Khan goes on to reveal how the place offered him solace during the upheavals in his life. “I don’t remember asking for anything. But I knew mother Mary knows why I’m here,” he says in the film.
Pinto has one regret, however. He missed including Mumbai police. “A police inspector who manages security during the Bandra Fair, told me how he and some of his colleagues have been visiting the shrine for years now. That, every year, after managing the crowds, they spare a few minutes for themselves and sit in the church.”