On December 4, 2014, Bardroy Barretto’s Nachom-ia Kumpasar was premiered in Margao in Goa. Barretto had modest expectations about how long interest in the Konkani musical would last.

“We thought three months, or maybe six months at best,” Barretto told Scroll. A decade later, the movie inspired by Konkani music legends Chris Perry and Lorna Cordeiro is still playing in Goa – but not in the places where you expect it to be shown.

Unlike other films, Nachom-ia Kumpasar has never been released in cinemas. Instead, since 2014, it has been steadily shown at community screenings across Goa. The most recent show was on February 4 in Manduri village in North Goa. (Subsequent screenings have been suspended for Lent, the 40-day period of abstinence before Easter.)

The story behind Nachom-ia Kumpasar (Let’s Dance to the Rhythm) is as fascinating as its unusual mode of distribution. Barretto’s rivetting, fictionalised account of the tempestuous relationship between the two iconic Konkani musicians resurrected Lorna Cordeiro’s career and pointed to the links between Goan musicians and the Hindi film industry.

Nachom-ia Kumpasar (2014).

Barretto and producing partner Angelo Braganza never intended that the movie would be released conventionally. Having raised the roughly Rs 3.5 crore production budget by borrowing from family members and friends, the filmmakers weren’t just going to dump Nachom-ia Kumpasar in a regular multiplex or a single screen. They had in mind the bruising experiences of other Konkani filmmakers who have suffered because they conformed to the orthodoxy of ideas on how films are meant to reach audiences.

“There is no commerce in a commercial release for a Konkani film – it’s simply too small,” said Barretto, who has spent decades in Mumbai’s advertising industry. “The cinemas give you a week or two weeks at the most and then push you out if you don’t show the numbers. Also, the revenue-sharing model doesn’t allow Konkani films to break even.”

Nachom-ia Kumpasar took another route. The producers initially booked shows at the government-run Ravindra Bhavan auditoria across the state and a venue operated by Entertainment Society of Goa (which co-hosts the annual International Film Festival of Goa). Since 2016, the film has been shown by a mobile screening unit.

Ticketed screenings organised by panchayats and parishes are popular even though the musical is available on the streaming platform GoaFlix. At shows sponsored by village associations, viewers watch the film’s first half, take a break for a game of housie (also known as bingo) and then resume the screening, Barretto said.

Nachoim is the standard-bearer for any kind of distribution in Konkani cinema,” said filmmaker Akshay Singh, who most recently wrote and produced the independent Konkani film Aiz Maka Falea Tuka (Today Me, Tomorrow You). “If there is a family celebration, such as a birth or a confirmation, people can call for the film to come to them. It has become a ritual, a cultural artefact.”

Bardroy Barretto.

The mobile screening unit that takes the movie to distant places is essentially a truck fitted with a screen, a projection kiosk and a 5.1 Dolby sound system. Such units are also used for outdoor screenings at IFFI.

“The screens have been built to meet the standards of a regular cinema,” explained Anirvan Ghose, Managing Director of Pulz Electronics, which along with Dolby supplies the mobile units. “The system is absolutely secure, and there is no piracy.”

Ghose met first Barretto and Angelo Braganza at Pulz’s post-production studio in Mumbai in 2014. Nachom-ia Kumpasar is the only such film that is being shown in this way, Ghose said.

Ten years ago, the triumph that awaited Nachom-ia Kumpasar was nowhere in sight. The movie’s emergence was as low-key as its impact has been huge.

“After we finished the film, we didn’t even have a trailer,” Barretto said. “But the film went viral after the premiere itself. Since then, we have been relying on word of mouth and updates about screenings on our Facebook page.”

Nachom-ia Kumpasar stars Vijay Maurya as Lawrence and Palomi Ghosh as Dona. Lawrence is a jazz trumpeter and songwriter who finds in the talented Dona the perfect voice for his band. Their mutual passion threatens their professional partnership, especially since Lawrence is married and is unable to leave his wife for Dona.

Palomi Ghosh and Vijay Maurya in Nachom-ia Kumpasar (2014). Courtesy Goa Folklore Productions.

The soundtrack has 20 classic Konkani tunes based on Chris Perry’s original recordings. For Goans, Nachom-ia Kumpasar is a time machine that transports views into the pulsating Konkani music scene in the 1960s and 1970s, which also influenced the Hindi film world. One of the narrative’s themes is the neglected contributions by Goan musicians to some of Hindi cinema’s biggest hits.

Public demand for this throwback to an era of melody was instant and massive. “We would send tickets by bus to various villages,” Barretto recalled. “We tried to be as democratic as possible.”

Curiously, a movie that has achieved iconic status among Goans features non-Goans in the leading roles. After failing to find suitable local actors, Barretto cast Vijay Maurya, who has an uncanny resemblance to Chris Perry, and Palomi Ghosh.

Nachom-ia Kumpasar was Ghosh’s first major role. “It blows my mind to think it has been 10 years – this is probably the biggest surprise of my career in terms of the lifeline the film has had,” Ghosh told Scroll.

She has met people who have seen the movie many times over. She has been accosted at parties with requests to sing the movie’s songs (it helps that she has a lovely singing voice herself).

She has a warm memory from the 2014 premiere. “An elderly woman who was there with her grandchildren walked up to me, cupped my face with her hands, looked at me for several seconds and didn’t say anything,” Ghosh recalled. “It’s one of my core memories.”

While Barretto hasn’t heard directly from Lorna Cordeiro, who has spoken in interviews about watching the film, Palomi Ghosh had two encounters with the brilliant singer, one of them in the home of a mutual friend in Mumbai.

“Lorna asked me to sing, and it frightened me to no end,” Ghosh said. “I mumbled Tuzo Mog and then she joined me in the singing.” The other brief encounter was at a concert in Mumbai, after which Ghosh met Cordeiro to pay her respects.

Bebdo, Nachom-ia Kumpasar (2014).

Bardroy Barretto based Nachom-ia Kumpasar on his memories of listening to Chris Perry’s music while growing up in Goa. He wanted to “document a way of life that is ever changing”.

The 54-year-old filmmaker added, “The film is honest in its vignettes of Goa, and it could be a reference for future generations. Also, cinema in Goa had taken a beating. The idea was to change that perception, to give something back.”

The Konkani film industry is an oxymoron. Goa is a favoured location for Indian filmmakers, but Konkani films have historically struggled at the box office.

“Konkani cinema is and has been in a fairly bad state – there simply isn’t enough of an audience to recover production budgets,” explained Sachin Chatte, a film curator and critic with Navhind Times. “By my calculations, roughly 5% out of a population of 15 lakhs watches films in theatres. It’s a one-way ticket – you don’t get your money back.”

Konkani cinema labours under the giant shadow of the local musical performance tradition known as tiatr. As Konkani films have been released in ones or two each year or with long gap between releases for several years, Goans get their cultural fix from tiatr productions instead.

A report by Goan journalist Pamela D’Mello on Scroll in 2016 pointed out that it was “crossover tiatr actors and Goan musicians working in the Hindi film industry” who were responsible for the earlest Konkani films. These include the first Konkani film Mogacho Anvddo in 1950, Amchem Noxib (1963) and Nirmon (1966). Music played a significant role in some of the early films, which include the classic Bhuierantlo Munis (1977), which Chris Perry produced and wrote the score for.

Mamta, Bhuierantlo Munis (1977).

Production slumped in the 1970s and 1980s, picking up again only in the 2000s, D’Mello noted. In 2004, the International Film Festival of India, a wandering event that had been held in various cities across India, was permanently relocated to Panaji. The Goa government set up a fund to subsidise filmmakers.

Despite this, the hits in subsequent years have been few and far between They include Rajendra Talak’s Aleesha (2004) and O Maria (2014), and Swapnil Shetkar’s Home Sweet Home (2014). “Aleesha examined the issue of mining in Goa, while O Maria was about the sale of land in Goa to outsiders,” Sachin Chatte said. “These films did well because they struck a chord with Goans. But serious films or artistic productions are not readily accepted.”

The Goa government’s film finance scheme has barely worked, said a Konkani cinema expert on the condition of anonymity. According to the scheme, a selection committee hands out either Rs 50 lakh or 50% of the production budget, whichever is lower. If a film costs Rs one crore, it will be allotted Rs 50 lakh. If it costs Rs two crore, it will still get only Rs 50 lakh.

There are lower slabs too for Rs 20 lakh and Rs 30 lakh. However, this scheme has been “in limbo” since 2016, according to the industry expert.

“The government isn’t interested in supporting cinema, even as it hosts IFFI, which costs upto Rs 25 crore a year,” the expert said. “Very few private producers are willing to fund films. Barely any films get a commercial release. The community screening route isn’t viable for everybody.”

One of the reasons the Nachom-ia Kumpasar experience is hard to replicate is the very reason why it is sought after, said Miransha Naik, director of the critically acclaimed Juze (2017), a dark tale of Goa’s feudal culture and the brutality faced by labourers.

Nachom-ia Kumpasar has worked and can work for many more years because it’s a commercial film with repeat value,” Naik observed. “Also, it’s a family-friendly film that can be shown at an open-air venue for all age groups. I can’t do the same thing with Juze because it’s an adult film.”

Juze (2017).

There are barely any alternatives to the community screening option. Since government-run venues in Goa demand censor certification before programming films, “it is as good as releasing a film in cinemas”, Naik said. “I made a small profit with the first few shows of Juze, but the cost of programming such films at unconventional venues is ultimately high.”

Filmmaker Akshay Singh, who has produced Ridham Janve’s Himachal Pradesh-set The Gold-Laden Sheep and the Sacred Mountain (2018), said that attempts to hold community screenings for that film didn’t work out.

“Goa is probably the only place where there is a possibility of taking Konkani films around the state,” Singh said. “But for a community to willingly call for an arthouse, artistic film that doesn’t have frills or amusements – it’s a tricky one.”

Miransha Naik made his second film Vaat (2023) in Marathi in an attempt to reach a wider audience. His upcoming third feature, about a woman with a complex past that comes to haunt her, will be in Konkani – a decision Naik describes as “stupid rather than brave” but unavoidable because his brain is wired to his native tongue.

Not only is the market for Konkani cinema negligible, but there are vast swathes of the population, both natives or settlers, who don’t speak Konkani, Naik added. Adding to the challenges, the type of Konkani spoken in Goa is different from the way the language is used in Mangalore and coastal Maharashtra, preventing Konkani cinema produced in Goa from travelling widely, he pointed out.

While Nachom-ia Kumpasar has predominantly been circulated in Goa, the movie has also resonated among the Goan diaspora, Barretto said. Sponsored shows have been held wherever enterprising Goans migrated over the decades – the United States, Australia, Qatar, Bahrain, Dubai, and even Israel.

Barretto has lost count of the number of shows his film has notched up. While his passion project continues to earn revenue, money keeps flowing outwards to maintain the equipment as well as support the employees who organise the screenings.

Barretto has a couple of other scripts, including one about Goa’s football culture, but he isn’t in a hurry to move on from the success of Nachom-ia Kumpasar.

“The idea to keep the film alive and keep it going,” he said. “For a long time, I could only see the compromises involved in the making. Now, I am enjoying what it is we have done.”

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