Konkani Cinema Conundrums
By Suyash Kamat
Indian cinema has always been over-represented by Bollywood. But away from the glitz and glamour of Hindi cinema lies the heart of Indian storytelling, its regional cinemas. Led early on by Marathi, Bengali and Tamil cinema, regional cinemas began expanding in all languages and dialects covering every corner of the country. Konkani cinema had its first film in 1950 with Mogacho Anvddo directed by Jerry Braganza.
70 years since then, there’s very little to celebrate. While the culture of cinephilia has always been largely absent in the state, the introduction of IFFI in 2004 created a few ripples but has largely remained restricted to that. What does it take to create consistently great work that can help shape the identity of ‘regional Konkani cinema’? How does one create an environment which can help elevate our films, not just in terms of how many we make but how well we make them? The Peacock caught up with a few contemporary cinema practitioners in Goa to get their perspective.
“What we need at this moment is for the government to look at how film bodies have worked in other states to create a support infrastructure in order to encourage our filmmakers”, remarks Laxmikant Shetgaonkar, whose film Paltadacho Munis (2009) made waves at the Toronto International Film Festival among many others, and is hailed as one of the best to have come out of the state. ‘Financial support is the core reason why we haven’t been able to constantly churn out great films.’ Drawing on the example of Marathi cinema, he believes, “We need to support the industry in its infancy stage until it can sustain itself. It took 60 years of government financing for Marathi cinema to be at the level where it is today”.
Given the limited scope of audiences, commercial viability of a film is always a question for filmmakers who are liable to their financiers. But in recent years, a few films have enjoyed commercial success. Bardroy Barretto’s Nachom-ia-Kumpasar (2014) led this movement with the film receiving both critical acclaim and public appreciation. “We started with the intention of not just making one film but starting a movement. I wanted to leave a footprint behind and give back to the state I come from. And in turn, inspire others while doing so”. Devising an offbeat distribution approach of combining theater releases and more than 80 outdoor screenings in villages of Goa, the film has now become the face of contemporary Konkani cinema. He believes that it’s not just the making of the film which needs support but also its exhibition. “The avenues for exhibition should be easy and accessible. Only then can young filmmakers dream of putting their films out there for the audiences”.
But for many anxious young filmmakers, making films in Konkani is still a matter of risk. “When it comes to regional films, you can’t depend on local small markets like ours. You have to either make it in low budget or you make it for the international audience, in which case the language becomes somewhat irrelevant” opines Miransha Naik, an alumnus of Whistling Woods whose debut feature Juze (2016) did the festival rounds all over and was widely appreciated for its stark realism, heartfelt authentic performances and its strong hold over the narrative. ‘What we also lack is a good culture of actors. It’s difficult to find good actors who can speak and perform fluently in Konkani’. Sighting similar lack of film culture, Siddhesh Naik, an editing alumnus of Whistling Woods stated that “when it comes to the crew, most of us want to be a director, DOP or actor, relegating other equally crucial departments like production design, hair and make-up etc to outsiders.’ This he believes is less effective when it comes to making a film rooted in Goan culture.
But films are as artistic an endeavor as commercial and for Yash Sawant, a young filmmaker whose short film A Cold Summer Night (2018) opened at the prestigious Locarno International Film Festival, the engagement with formal aspects of filmmaking are more intriguing. And yet, funding still remains a crucial element. ‘My short film was entirely self-funded. I skipped college and used that money which luckily worked out well.’ But going ahead, he believes we need to decondition ourselves from the clutches of traditional ways of approaching the medium. “I’ve been developing my own way of producing my current films, by limiting the number of crew and equipment, and investing in time rather than people”.
So while the problems exist at both personal and systematic level, the solutions seem to come from seeing a complete overhaul across the board from the making, distribution and ultimately, creating audiences. It’s not from the lack of creative talent but the lack of possible platforms to identify this talent and nurture these voices, in order to let the art become primary without the commerce dictating its viability. The medium of cinema has always been polarized between being entertainment and an art form. And what Konkani cinema needs is for both of these extremes to be made in abundance. As coincidently stated by both Bardroy and Laxmikant, “From quantity will emerge quality”. This process, even though long drawn and tedious, must begin if we are to try and find our identity in our cinema in the near future.