Konkani cinema: For love not money

Sunday, 11 November 2012 - 8:41am IST Updated: Saturday, 10 November 2012 - 9:42pm IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: dna

Konkani cinema is small, barely heard of and extremely non-profitable. Joanna Lobo meets the directors and actors whose award-winning work is beginning to shine a light on Goa’s film scene.

Konkani cinema is small, barely heard of and extremely non-profitable. Joanna Lobo meets the directors and actors whose award-winning work is beginning to shine a light on Goa’s film scene

The term “Konkani cinema” probably doesn’t pop up in Google too often, but if you have trawled the web looking for examples, there’s not much online. You’ll find the odd mention of film songs, a blog or two and some fiery edits in Goan newspapers about the need to preserve this cinema. Yet, three Konkani films have won National Awards in the last 10 years. Clearly, there’s something cinematic afoot in Goa.

The first Konkani film was made in 1950, Mogacho Anvddo. In 1963, Amchem Noxib hit screens and remains popular even today because of its soundtrack. Till date, approximately 40 films have been made in Konkani. No wonder director Dnyanesh Moghe tentatively calls it “a film scene”, rather than an industry.

The last decade has seen a slow change. Three films have won National Awards. At least one Konkani film is released every year of late. Some credit for this goes to the International Film Festival of India (IFFI), which made Goa its home in 2004, and to filmmakers treating the craft more seriously. Moghe is among those who want to make good Konkani films and aren’t daunted by the battles against negligible profits, the lack of equipment and a small audience.

Jack of All Trades
Moghe, 50, made his first feature film, Digant, this year. Set in the dhangar (shepherd) community of Goa, it was screened at the Mumbai Film Festival and will be part of the Indian Panorama section at the upcoming IFFI. “This way, when we release it in theatres, people will have heard about it,” says Moghe.

It’s a formula that worked for Rajendra Talak, 55, one of the better known directors in the Goan film scene. He describes himself as “the only person to have made a number of films” in the Konkani film scene. So far, the number is four. All of them  premiered at IFFI and then released in theatres. Aleesha (2004) and Antarnad (2006) picked up National Awards, and last year, O Maria completed a silver jubilee run at Goa’s two major multiplexes (a first for a Konkani movie).

“All my films are on social issues that are related to the Goans — the mining scam (Aleesha), our loss of identity (O Maria) and the current generation’s obsession with instant fame (Antarnad, Savali),” he says, adding that this helps audiences relate to his work.

Not for profit
Konkani films are not economically viable despite their small budgets. Even if it’s shot in Goa with Goan actors, a film costs upwards of Rs30 lakh. The government offers a grant that covers either 50% of the film’s budget or Rs15 lakh (for the digital format) or Rs25 lakh (for a celluloid film). Then there is post production work, which has to be done in Mumbai, and the costs involved in getting the films screened at different theatres. “The math is difficult,” says Moghe. “It’s a good thing I don’t do this for money.”

Talak started out with a Rs65 lakh budget for Aleesha. His later films have all cost more than a crore, which is pittance by Bollywood standards. “There’s no big money in Goan films,” he says. “If you assume that the number of Goans in the state is around 10 lakh, you would need at least two lakh among them to come and watch your film for it to make a profit. How is that possible?”

Dramatic potential
Talak, who is also a builder, worked in theatre for 30 years, at times working as a director, in lighting, on costumes and even composing background music. The experience of multitasking comes handy in Konkani films where directors need to play multiple roles, like being the producer, screenwriter and director. A theatre background also helped Moghe make the transition from telefilms and documentary films to feature films. Moghe wrote the screenplay and dialogues, and was the cinematographer for his film. These multiple roles have one important result: the cost of the film remains low.

Theatre has proved to be a great blessing for filmmakers in Goa. Most film actors are either amateurs or from Konkani and Marathi theatre. Few of them consider it their profession. Dr Meenacshi Martins, a practising psychiatrist and a theatre actor with experience in Hindi TV serials, made her film debut in Talak’s O Maria. “These films are a service to our mother tongue so the fees don’t matter,” she says.

Talak occasionally nets a few bigger names like Reema Lagoo, Tiku Talsania and Shahnaz Patel. The Goan singing legend Prince Jacob has appeared in his films. Sometimes, he picks completely new faces, like Priyanka Bidaye, 26, who played the lead in Aleesha and

Sawariya.com. Bidaye teaches chemistry at Goa University. She was spotted by Talak’s friend at an elocution competition, and a few days later, Talak showed up at her house with a camera to audition her. Despite the films in her kitty, Bidaye says she’s sure that teaching, and not acting, is her career.

Perhaps what is most hopeful about Konkani cinema is that the many obstacles haven’t resulted in films that are amateur curiosities. This is not Malegaon.

“People are taking risks and making films and are finding support in those interested in maintaining our culture,” says Moghe who is currently working on two films. “We may not be an industry and our work may seem amateur, but it is done professionally.”

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