GOAN VERITÉ – CINEMA & SAUDADE
BY R. BENEDITO FERRÃO
I knew Goa through the movies. Or, rather, the stories my father told me about them. Not having been born there, these twice removed narratives of our fabled homeland had to make do.
If I heard these tales in relay from their actual source, then this was only fitting given the material. Believed to be inspired by French novel ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’ (1844), Bhuierantlo Munis (1977), one of my father’s favourites, was the first Goan film to be shot in colour. In his seminal novel, Alexandre Dumas featured a character who is fashioned after and named for a Goan priest who pioneered the study of hypnotism, an actuality history has all but forgotten. Readers encounter Abbé José Custódio de Faria (1756-1819) as the discombobulated but wily monk imprisoned at the Château d’If in Dumas’ classic. Here, fiction coincides with fact, for the real Abbé had been incarcerated at the Bastille at the time of the revolution.
Bhuierantlo Munis was produced by the musician Chris Perry. His life itself provides the basis for Bardroy Barreto’s Nachom-ia Kumpasar (2015). Some while ago, I had the pleasure of watching the movie with my parents at Panjim’s Maquinez Palace. The highly lauded film recalls the yesteryear soundtrack of my parents’ generation. As evidence, my mother and others of similar age in the audience sang along with the on-screen performances. But as further proof of the cultural legacy of the music popularised by Perry and the ever-amazing Lorna Cordeiro, whose lives are fictionalised in Barreto’s film, I was additionally struck by how the twenty-somethings seated in the row in front of me would also lend chorus to the songs, many of which still play on Goan radio stations.
Coming as I do from a family that spans the Goan diaspora, the region’s cinema has also taught me about the lives of relatives I have only had passing acquaintance with. The first time I met my grandmother’s brother, it was on his long overdue visit to Goa after having resided in Karachi since before the end of Portuguese rule. Dinesh P. Bhonsle’s Enemy? (2015) gave me some background about how returnees, like my great uncle, are kept from reconnecting with Goa.
In ‘Enemy?’ a Goan family once resident in what is now Pakistan returns to their native land to discover that their ancestral home has been seized under the aegis of the Enemy Property Act of 1968. Created after the India-Pakistan War of 1965, the law allows the Indian government to take over the properties of those deemed citizens of enemy nation-states. The act targets Pakistani nationals, primarily those displaced by Partition, post-Independence. For the many Goans affected by the act, it was not Partition that cleaved them from their land, but the annexation of Goa
by India which then made the formerly Portuguese territory beholden to this law.
Goan cinema is its own form, its source material deriving from local contexts and histories. Part of the Goan Story segment at IFFI 2019, recent movies like Laxmikant Shetgaonkar’s Paltadcho Munis (2009), Dnyanesh Moghe’s Digant (2012), and Miransha Naik’s Juze (2017) dwell on memory at the same time as they challenge conservatism and society’s rigidities.
This current resurgence of Konkani filmmaking in Goa is arguably emblematic of an endogamous cinematic movement, one I’d like to call Goan Verité. Goans have adopted the word saudades from the Portuguese, a sentimental term simultaneously expressive of nostalgia as well as loss and yearning. Goan Verité explores saudades as it takes on current realities and envisions ways forward for our community.
Illustration by Fabian Gonsalves. You can follow his work on instagram.com/fabskribbler
Read more from The Peacock: Issue 8 (2019) here: