Meenakshi Shedde: Konkani cinema: ekdum ulta
Last week, I did a double-take when I saw a big Bollywood star - well past his prime, but still getting interesting offers - play the lead in a Konkani film
Last week, I did a double-take when I saw a big Bollywood star - well past his prime, but still getting interesting offers - play the lead in a Konkani film. He plays a growly-voiced musician who lives in a bungalow in Goa, with a sign reading, 'Women are not allowed.' Avoiche xapath (mother's promise).
Nevertheless, a refreshing departure from the usual ignorance or contempt top Bollywood stars often have for Indian films in other languages. Such were the unexpected revelations I had, as a member of the Goa State Film Festival Awards Jury last week. Our features jury was headed by senior director Girish Kasaravalli (Ghatashraddha, Tabarana Kathe, Mane, Thai Saheba, in Kannada); the non-feature jury included senior actor Dhritiman Chatterjee (Satyajit Ray's Pratidwandi, Mrinal Sen's Akaler Sandhane, Aparna Sen's 36 Chowringhee Lane; suave as ever).
Much of the week, I was immersed in Konkani film talents and characters with names like Tomazinho, Moisinho, Cielda, Succorin and Spirit, and discovering that Goans love church-related themes. The screenings were in the atmospheric, mango-yellow Maquinez Palace, or Palacio dos Maquinezes, overlooking the Mandovi River, that was built in Panjim in 1702. The awards screenings were organised by the Entertainment Society of Goa, including vice chairman and filmmaker Rajendra Talak, and festival committee head and film critic Sachin Chatte.
It was lovely to hear Konkani, my mother tongue, spoken day and night. It is a lovely language, rich in alliteration and metaphor. In Goan Konkani, they say gorom-gorom cha (hot-hot tea), baygin-baygin yaw (come soon-soon). Goans, at least in films, are always exclaiming 'Avois ge!' (Oh mother!) or 'Saiba Bogos!' (Oh hell!). Although the Konkani I speak is more Kannada-inflected (I'm a Chitrapur Saraswat) than the Portuguese-inflected Goan Konkani, I could follow much of it. Konkani doesn't have its own script; but it is the only language that uses five scripts in everyday use: Devanagiri, Roman, Kannada, Malayalam and Arabic.
Normally, on a jury, you see a large number of films chasing very few awards. In Goa, it was ekdum ulta. With a relatively fledgling film industry of Konkani and Marathi films made in Goa, they had 38 awards chasing just 10 films! Nineteen awards for 9 Konkani films, and 19 awards for just one Marathi film. This bizarre situation gave me insights into the economics and politics of language. Imagine, while the Hindi, Tamil and Telugu industries make, on average, 250-350 feature films a year, the Konkani industry makes barely five to seven features a year. Also, while many Indian language film industries have flourished since the silent, pre-1931 era, the first Konkani film, Mogacho Anvddo (Love'[s Craving), was released only in 1950. What's more, Konkani, Goa's official language, was declared an official Indian language only in 1992.
I often heard the Konkani word baxem/boksh, and suspect it means forgiveness; I wondered if it came from the Arabic bakhsh, meaning giving, gift, forgiveness. If so, languages are truly adventurous.
Meenakshi Shedde is South Asia Consultant to the Berlin Film Festival, award-winning critic, curator to festivals worldwide and journalist. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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