Thursday, January 24, 2008

IFFI should promote the Konkani cause

IFFI should promote the Konkani cause

Ethel da Costa

IFFI = International Film Festival of India

Has the dust already settled nice and proper on the IFFI? Have we all finished with what we have to say? Are the home grown `experts’ taking a siesta break like good unaffected Goenkars, since their murmurs have been brushed under the carpet anyway and people loose steam here so quickly (all bark, no bite). It hasn’t finished for me yet, simply because I can’t remember the last time I took a siesta nap. The bite is always so alluring.

All the flutter notwithstanding, a little thought grew upon me during the weekend, even as I contemplated if the frogs in our backyard had migrated elsewhere, given their total silence this monsoon. I got out of town, drove into the villages, enjoyed the hospitality of a close friend and his lively family and found the frogs silent there too, except for a lone croak or two. My host brushed aside the ban on frog hunting as baseless, since a law on paper remains toothless unless implemented with seriousness. The merry frog hunting parties are still on.

While silence is good for the soul and the jawbone to de-stress from the rattle race, I don’t accept it when priorities get compromised through bullying tactics and noise is needed to balance out the equations. I’m irked that there has been total silence from all Goans, otherwise thumping their chest and having me believe in their Goan-ness (some faking it for self promotion too these days) on a very relevant core issue. While we have discussed how Goa should set about wooing Hollywood and Bollywood to our sunny beaches, has anyone asked how the IFFI would serve the cause of the Goan tiatrist and the Konkani film industry itself, struggling to make its voice and presence felt to an audience, in the total absence of government support? I should think this question would reign prime in the local context, since we’re all excited about inviting the world to our doorstep, while thumbing down the local arts with the stepmotherly cold shoulder.

I’m baffled why there hasn’t been a single representation, in print or in person, in body or in spirit, asking the government how the IFFI would benefit the Konkani film industry and the popular tiatr, given its 100-year-old illustrious history glorified through its many talented sons and daughters. So since there aren’t any ruffles yet, let’s stir this nest a bit.

For years, I have watched this community going about their daily business. Not that I have been an ardent tiatr fan, but thankful nevertheless to the fact that my folks did introduce me to this amazing form of theatre, even if for its pure entertainment value. I remember enjoying many a good laugh, over dialogue and costume, and coming back home thoroughly content for having provided me with a glimpse of a quaint culture. Till a few years later, and many interactions with this community, made me realise that there was something much deeper at work here. Here’s a community struggling to hold on to a theatre form, not only for the sake of talent (and there is much rich talent here), but because of their kinship with their mother tongue – the Konkani language. The sole factor that binds every tiartist together to the soil, the village they come from and the relationship they share with each other, despite their differences. There is great pride in their vocation, and great sorrow too. I have yet to meet a tiatrist, however amateur, who has not spoken to me about his role as an ambassador of the language, without a tinge of regret. For given its 100 odd illustrious history, this form of theatre has yet to be granted its deserving pedestal amongst the art forms of the country, and yes, Goa too.

For too long I have seen tiatr sidelined as simply an art form meant for the masses. Ditto with Konkani films. The classes snoot down its existence, and the ruling classes think of them as mere entertainment value – a few laughs, shoddy acting, a few potshots at the local MLA or policemen, double innuendo jokes, plagiarized tunes and complete paisa vasool. I grew up thinking the same too, and this is as honest as I can get, until I sat down patiently at a local `zagor’ and watched two hours of direct audience participation with the actors on stage, highlighting local social issues of biases, bribes and acts of corruption by public serving officials, through their songs and script. This experience was the first of many more to follow. Of course, tiatr is plagued by acts of commercialisation too, for the simple reason that the industry is not organised or uniform in process or thought. Despite it all, great actors and actresses have time and again proved their mettle in this medium, some going down as unsung heroes, some trumpeted for no reason at all. Of course, there is much that can be done to ensure their right in Konkani’s `Hall of Fame,’ but that’s not my point here. My point is simple: Given the expectations of a world class event coming to our shores, what can the IFFI do to boost the sagging morales of this home-grown, cash starved industry, once having known to produce unforgettable classics like Bhoglant, Amche Noxib, Nirmonn, Buyaranthlo Munis or Mhoji Ghorkarn. I can’t remember any recent ones (though I am told there are some), simply because they haven’t been given the due publicity efforts like these deserve, however small (even gory adult movies get better public ad space these days). And if these movies are screened, why don’t the local theatres premier them with the fanfare they deserve? Is the Konkani film industry devoid of vision, or are the Konkani tiatrists too busy making their own money to take forth their natural evolvement from stage to screen seriously?

It is true that the Marathi industry enjoys a finer platform and audience on stage and screen, in Goa and Mumbai. It is true that this medium has been putting forth an organised effort to make their stand amongst the local regional languages of the country. And they have succeeded. So, what then ails the Konkani film industry, given the notion that the stage form has succeeded to achieve some semblance of structure. It can’t be a dearth of talent or lack of scripts. Some of Bollywood’s best musicians have been Goans, directors and producers of Goan origin making their mark too. And money can always be raised, if the efforts come with good intentions. I believe it is the Konkani industry’s lack of unified vision and the girth to combine into a driving force, that can give them the direction they need to build their resources and demand treatment as equals. The Marathi film industry shared a similar genesis and see where they have reached.

If the IFFI means serious business, then so should the Konkani stage brethren. They should take advantage of this opportunity and ask the government to mouth their cause too. If we are going to promote international films in Goa, why not support Konkani films too? Why not provide the funds needed to build upon this industry that has till now survived on private funds scrapped from generous pockets. Every state has their own regional film industry, isn’t it time Goa boasted her own? Especially at the rate people are so attuned to making mountains out of molehills, we’ll never ever face the scrunch of good scriptwriters. What did they say about life being a stage?

Ethel da Costa
June 28, 2003

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