Large families, some of them spanning three generations, troop into the Marqinez Palace in Panaji and settle down after much chatter. Grandmothers carefully negotiate their way to their seats while toddlers are hushed in time for the screening. The mild chaos indicates that this is not the usual savvy, film-watching crowd that glides into the efficiently elegant multiplex. What we have here is the planned family outing for Go Goa Gollywood’s Konkani movie Home Sweet Home 2.
Marquinez Palace is no regular movie theatre. The viewing hall of the Entertainment Society of Goa, the government organisation that co-hosts the annual International Film Festival of India, is a venue for all kinds of events, from concerts to seminars and, of late, movies. Home Sweet Home 2 has been shown here once a week at one show for the past several weeks. It is only the latest Konkani movie to go beyond conventional theatres and take the special screening route to reach audiences.
Konkani films are released in the conventional way – through multiplexes and single screens – as well as the increasingly popular special screening way over the past several months. Prasad Creations’ Enemy, Eesa and Noah Productions’ Nirmon (a remake of a Konkani classic of the same name), Vaibhav Production’s Prem at First Sight, and Goa Folklore Productions’ Nachom-ia-Kumpasar have all been holding shows at non-regular venues across the state. Such screenings help producers in several ways: they reduce exhibition costs and the need to pay entertainment tax to the state government, bypass the programming diktats of multiplexes and directly reach audiences who don’t have cinemas in their towns. These screenings have considerably extended the life of a film beyond the typical week or two.
Nachom-ia-Kumpasar, for instance, was completed in 2014 but is still being shown across Goa. Directed by Bardroy Baretto, the movie is based on the legendary romance between Konkani musicians Lorna Cordeiro and Chris Perry. “If your film is not star driven or pushed by a big banner, the regular multiplex system makes a film irrelevant in two days,” Baretto told Scroll.in. “It’s called a commercial release, but I did not see any commerce in that route.” Baretto spent 10 years on his debut, borrowing favours and money from nearly 100 investors to complete the production. “There were enough examples of filmmakers going broke though their films are good,” Baretto said. “I was determined to avoid this, and to spend at least two years keeping the film relevant with regulated screenings.”
The multiplex trap
Multiplexes demand a 70% share of sales, added Miguel Jacob Fernandes (also known as Prince Jacob), a screen actor and star of the Konkani theatre, known locally as tiatr. “They give you non-peak show slots and pull you off the screens to accommodate higher-grossing Hindi films even if your film is drawing in 80% full halls,” Fernandes said.
The Konkani film industry works on far smaller budgets than its Hindi cousin in Mumbai, and the number of films made in a year rarely crosses single digits. Since 2015, however, at least a dozen films have been produced, and the number is climbing. The uptick in production does not ensure enough funds for the marketing and advertising that is needed to draw audiences into the short one-week run offered by regular cinemas.
Baretto decided to bypass the orthodox exhibition route altogether. Along with his producer, Angelo Braganza, the advertising filmmaker tapped government-run cultural venues such as the Ravindra Bhavans in several places in Goa for screenings. The sound technology company Dolby India stepped in to boost local projection facilities.
Baretto and his team book available slots at multipurpose government venues and hire projectionists or amateurs to run shows. Word of mouth publicity is combined with newspaper advertising. The downside is a long wait for such screenings, which are usually sold out in advance.
One way or another, the slow and patient route of special screenings seems to be going somewhere. Nachom-ia-Kumpasar has been shown over 350 times across Goa, apart from screenings for expatriate Konkani speakers in Dubai, Kuwait and Canada. The film has become a community project, drawing volunteers and support from unexpected quarters. Baretto has been able to repay lenders of the estimated Rs four crores that the movie cost. Of course, Nachom-ia-Kumpasar is a notch above the rest. The winner of the National Award for Best Feature Film in Konkani in 2015 has 20 all-time hit songs, a feat few Konkani films can replicate.
Yet, the movie’s marketing model has been embraced by other producers, who now see a way of injecting new life into the permanently stricken Konkani film industry. “Last year there were two releases,” Baretto said. “Suddenly, regional filmmakers are seeing commerce in making cinema. And with quantity, quality will also come.”
Despite the lack of government backing, five Konkani films were released in December 2014 and January 2015, including a sci-fi title. Directors have been experimenting with genres, such as horror, as well as with formats. In 2012, the first digital film The Victim was released.
“We are seeing the Konkani film industry climb to its next level,” said Swapnil Shetkar, the director and producer of Home Sweet Home, which addresses land scams in the state. Home Sweet Home notched up 600 screenings since its release in 2014, and Shetkar felt encouraged enough to release the sequel in December 2015.
According to one estimate, Konkani films have an audience of around five lakhs in a state with a population of 15 lakhs. The cinema’s biggest rival is tiatr, the local performance art tradition that remains immensely popular. Tiatr productions need no government backing to survive – a hit tiatr easily sells one lakh tickets over 100 shows.
Crossover tiatr actors and Goan musicians working in the Hindi film industry were responsible for the early celluloid creations. The first Konkani film, Mogacho Anvddo, came out in 1950. Classics such as Amchem Noxib (Our Fate) in 1963 and the National Award winning Nirmon (Destiny) in 1966 were immensely popular for their soundtracks. Two more films followed, Sukhachem Sopon (Dreams of Happiness) in 1967 and Mhoji Ghorkarn (My Wife) in 1969.
Six films were rolled out in the 1970s. Hindi film playback singer Asha Bhosle lent her voice to the 1977 production Bhuierantlo Munis (Man in the Cave), which was produced and scored by Chris Perry, Goa’s best-loved music composer. It was among the first Konkani films in colour, along with Mog ani Moipass (Love and Affection) that was released in the same year. Lyricist and singer Alfred Rose left his mark on the 1975 film Boglantt (Blame), which was inspired by a tiatr.
Songs from the ’60s and ’70s have lingered on in public memory, but filmmaking stumbled over the next two decades. Some attribute this slump to the low population density of Konkani speakers across Goa and other coastal areas in the Konkan such as Mangalore and Kasargod in Kerala.
Film production picked up in the 2000s after the state government opened its coffers. The government’s munificence was partly a reaction to severe criticism of its decision to spend Rs 100 crores on establishing the infrastructure to support the International Film Festival of India, which was permanently relocated to Goa in 2004. The state’s first multiplex, owned by the Inox group, was built by the state government on the site of a defunct hospital in Panaji.
State-supported film finance schemes found many takers. Construction developer and former Entertainment Society of Goa member Rajendra Talak made the national-award winning Aleesha in 2004, followed by the Konkani/Marathi bilingual film Antarnaad/ Saavali in 2006, Saawariyaa.com (2008), O Maria in 2010 (which had great music by Goan musician Remo), and A Rainy Day in 2014.
While subsidies inevitably go to the politically well-connected, they remain a lifeline for filmmakers. Miguel Jacob Fernandes wants the government to do more, such as passing a law that will force cinemas to reserve the primetime 6pm slot for Konkani films every day, as is the case in Maharashtra. Barreto feels that building more theatres and increasing screening slots can work better for local filmmakers rather than flat subsidies, since reaching audiences remains the biggest hurdle.
At a function to mark the 150th screening of Home Sweet Home 2, Shetkar was optimistic. “Though the film finance scheme has stopped for the last four-five years, there have been more than 12 films made over 2015-16,” he said. “What we are seeing is a sort of renaissance in filmmaking. And this may be because filmmakers have now understood how to market their films and make them viable.”
It looks like the special screening route has been the best one to take for the long floundering Konkani film industry.