Your mood automatically lightens as you enter Goa. You drive past lazy rivers and rice fields still wearing a post-harvest stubble. Men consider ponds choked with lotuses during morning ablutions. I wonder what ablutioning women get to consider. Francis, my regular driver, drives me to Panjim — his baby Bency, nine months old, has just learnt to call him da-da, and his wife is mildly miffed that she hasn’t learnt ma-ma first. We pass villas painted in jaunty red, blue and yellow. People in other cities hesitate to be this happy. But there are casinos on boats on the Mandovi river, which local Goans are discouraged from entering: there must be limits to happiness.
I’m at a charming hotel on Rua 31 de Janeiro, set between the exquisite Latin quarter of Fontainhas and the riverfront. A sign outside my room, painted on a lovely blue-and-white tile, says, ‘Nossa Senhora de Fatima, abencoai este lar’ (Our Lady of Fatima, bless this house). The menu includes Caldo Verde (spinach soup), Sopa de Legumes (veggie soup with French beans) and Canja de Galinha (rice cooked in chicken broth), with superb poi (Goan bread) for breakfast, and a smaller pao called ‘une’ (unay, meaning less in Konkani). Next door is an outstanding Goan restaurant Hospedaria Venite (Latin for come), introduced to us by filmmaker Dibakar Banerjee years ago. The local headline crows about “Goa’s first Konkani action thriller film!” The news includes “regulation of dolphin boats” and the “To do in Goa” listing includes “Lunch with the Dalai Lama”. Sigh!
It feels very weird to come to Goa and then work hard, but I’m here to attend Film Bazaar and the International Film Festival of India on behalf of the Berlin Film Festival. Film Bazaar is an excellent hub for South Asian films, offering support on multiple fronts, including screenwriting, co-production, film screenings, works in progress films, and above all, networking. Everyone you want to meet is here.
It is also a great place to hear stories of the adventures of filmmaking. For instance, an award-winning Indian filmmaker is making a new film that includes a sequence in Kamathipura, Mumbai’s red light district. But it’s difficult to shoot there as there are issues of privacy and noise, and you can’t record good sync sound, the filmmaker told me. So they are considering shooting on a recreated set of Kamathipura, left over from a 2015 Indian film, that is still standing in Sri Lanka, if you please! Aha — sex, lies and DCP*.
Next, I meet Bangladeshi director Abu Shahed Emon, from whom I understand that if you want to be a filmmaker in a small country, it may help to become a global citizen first. Armed with multiple degrees and diplomas in filmmaking from the US, Australia and Korea, he has lived in Korea for four years and speaks fluent Korean. “When the plane touches down at Incheon airport in Seoul, I feel totally at home,” he tells me. His new film, A Foolish Man, is in the co-production market. His entire family, including unborn children, is part of his filmmaking dream. “My first child is named Shuddho Shopoth Golpo (literally, true promise story), because I hope he follows his dreams, makes his life meaningful for himself. I will have three children called Golpo (story), Chitro (picture) and Shabdo (sound). Then I will be called the father of cinema,” he says, laughing.
Finally, there was producer Guneet Monga’s birthday bash at filmmaker Q’s place in Assagao, a short drive from Panjim, with ‘firedancers’ — there were gora dancers dancing with fire, by the poolside, set in a grove, at midnight. Sigh! What am I doing in Bombay?
*DCP is digital cinema package, the medium that has replaced celluloid film
Meenakshi Shedde is South Asia Consultant to Berlin Film Festival, award-winning critic, curator to festivals worldwide and journalist. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org