By Vivek Menezes
The Peacock editorial team nests in a pistachio-painted bunker in the bowel of Maquinez Palace. Hush reigns, punctuated by tap-tapping keyboards. Our monotony breaks only briefly when the interns haul in food. A couple of samosas later, it’s back to our screens.
We’re aware of the riot of culture flourishing just outside – nobody covers it better than our reporters and photographers – but our only windows look out onto Panjim market, which remains unperturbed by IFFI 2016.
Once every couple of days, we allow ourselves to bust out, stroll into the technicolour instant universe that annually overwhelms the bucolic Mandovi riverfront. Thirteen years since India’s premiere film festival relocated to this minuscule slice of the Konkan coastline, it’s undeniable this is where it belongs. Back then naysayers complained that Goa has no film culture. But anyone who saw 1500 people try to get into Kala Academy’s auditorium to see ‘The Salesman’ on Nov 22 has to admit that slur is now out-dated.
IFFI 2016 has taken a palpable hit from demonetisation. Many people who registered from outside the state have not turned up in Panjim. But there are still thousands of real cinephiles here, and their positive energy is undeniable. Again and again, the subjects The Peacock has interviewed have marvelled at the intelligence and sensitivity of the audiences in Goa. Most often, they marvel about their open-mindedness.
That quality is exactly why IFFI has found its permanent home. No part of the subcontinent comes close to Goa’s deep-rooted culture of principled acceptance, tolerance, and openness to the world. For thousands of years, this distinct little territory distinguished itself as entrepot, trading post, and meeting ground for the world’s cultures.
When Mahatma Gandhi said, “I want the winds from every corner to blow through my house but I refuse to be swept off my feet by any of them,” he described this state and its people. Goans were comfortably globalized long before the word was invented.
IFFI’s setting neatly encapsulates that history. Maquinez Palace is named after two brothers from Macau who built it at the cusp of the 18th century. The marvellous old Goa Medical College housed the oldest such institution in all of Asia. When western medicine spread into the Far East for the first time, it was borne by men trained right here. The first trained doctor in Japan went there from Goa. The Mandovi River that flows slowly between the IFFI locations was once the superhighway to wealth. In the 16th century, the old capital of Estado da India Portuguesa upriver was the richest city in the world, more populous than Paris and London combined.
Kala Academy was built in the 20th century. But this small architectural jewel also connects far beyond its location: Charles Correa continued to develop his vocabulary to monumental scale in blockbuster buildings all over the world. The most poignant connection is to the spectacular Champalimaud Centre for The Unknown in Belem, next to the exact spot where Vasco da Gama and his successors set out for India, surviving the Cape of Good Hope to sail up precisely this Mandovi river.
There is a reason why people from all over the world feel instantly comfortable in Goa. It is because people from all over the world have always come here in the first place.
Times have changed, but Goa hasn’t. Xenophobia rises in many parts of the world, but not in Goa. Walls are being planned and built between nations, and peoples, but here the opposite is true. Just a few years ago, the idea of holding a major international cultural festival in Goa seemed outlandish. But no more.
Right along with the superlative banquet of cinema that IFFI 2016 has offered, we must hope the delegates from other parts of India and the world also imbibe our singular culture of tolerance.