On April 24, 1950, the first Konkani film, Mogacho Anvddo, was released in the town of Mapusa in Goa. Produced and directed by AL Jerry Braganza, the romance brought the medium of cinema to a state with a rich tradition in traditional theatre (called tiatr) and kantaram (songs). April 24 is now celebrated as Konkani Film Day.
Another landmark Konkani production weaves together cinema and music in enduring ways. Goan musicians and arrangers have played a vital role in the Hindi film industry, and some of that rich history is reflected in 1977’s Bhuierantlo Munis (The Man in the Cave). It was the first Konkani film in colour, and was written and produced by the legendary trumpet player and songwriter Chris Perry.
Bhuierantlo Munis “paved the way for others to produce in colour”, said Isidore Dantas, the author of Konkani Cholchitram, a book on Konkani cinema. The movie is regarded, alongside Amchem Noxib (1963) and Nirmon (1966), as among the top Konkani productions of its time. The plot revolves around smuggling and impersonation, into which is woven a love story between Cliff (Ivo Almeida Coutinho) and Maria (Helen Pereira).
Although the filmmakers deny it, the plot has shades of Alexandre Dumas’s classic novel from 1844, The Count of Monte Cristo. Konkani Cholchitram describes the plot thus: “The movie revolves around a smuggler who goes by the name Bhuierantlo Munis a.k.a. BM, who is absconding from the Aguada jail…B.M. conducts his smuggling activities from a cave and thus the name Bhuierantlo Munis. He is also the owner of a smuggling company where the hero, Cliff works. A recent news report suggests that the police manage to get smuggled goods and B.M. is also killed. But, in reality he is very much alive and managing his company. Cliff comes to know about it...”
The locations include Panaji, Margao, Shiridao, Benaulim, the churches of Old Goa and the temples of Ponda. Audiences were especially struck by the use of colour, lead actor Ivo Almeida Coutinho recalled. The movie included scenes set in Mumbai, and had stock footage of ice dancers that had been originally filmed in Paris, Coutinho added.
The film was in the making for over three years. “Those days, neither the government nor private agencies financed films,” Isidore Dantas said. “Producers had to depend on friends and relatives. The financier had to drop out and had to take another person as a co-producer at the last moment, which also had an effect on the film.”
As the production dragged on, the original director and writer, Shreedhar Naik, died. The movie was completed by SJ Philip.
The technical departments were headed by talent from the Hindi film industry, such as cinematographer Tyagraj Pendharkar, sound recordist JR Naik, editor Bhanudas Divkar and choreographer Sohan Lal.
The movie was finally released in 1977 in Goa and Mumbai. “It ran for a month at least,” Coutinho said. “Its DVD is now available, and it is regularly shown on local channels.”
Bhuierantlo Munis was Coutinho’s first and last acting assignment. He took the role for two reasons: it was set in Goa, and involved his friend, Chris Perry. “During my college days, I used to sing Kishore Kumar songs and participate in dance events,” recalled Coutinho, who runs Longuinhos retaurant in Margao. “When I went to Mumbai for a canning and food preservation course, I met Chris Perry. He used to perform at a night club in Churchgate every Saturday. We became friends, and one day he offered me the role.”
Coutinho had never acted before, not even in a play. But he was a fan of Jeetendra and Rajesh Khanna. His college mates even told him that he resembled the Hindi movie stars.
“I dressed like Jeetendra, wearing white shoes,” Coutinho recalled. He was paired with another fresh face, Helen Pereira. She too was from his college in Goa, and had experience in tiatr.
Coutinho didn’t get paid for his role. He dipped into his personal wardrobe for the costumes, and travelled to Mumbai at his own expense. He remembers the production as relaxed, with after-shoot parties, but he took his work seriously: “Before the shot, I used to take two re-takes, to achieve perfection.”
Coutinho gave up a possible acting career since he had to manage his family-owned restaurant. The musician and filmmaker Frank Fernand, who made Amchem Noxib and Nirmon in the 1960s, offered Coutinho a role in a Hindi movie with Jaya Bhaduri and Sanjeev Kumar, but nothing came of it.
Other untested actors in Bhuierantlo Munis included Radha Bartake, who was named Miss World Teen Princess for India in 1973. Bartake featured in one of the movie’s songs, Chup Chup. Also in the cast were tiatr artists such as comedian Paul Roamy, C Alvares and Rico Rod.
Paul Roamy played the hero’s friend, Jerry. “I was cast after Chris Perry’s brother watched my tiatr, Tuje Dhuv Mhaji Baile, in which I played a buck-toothed comedian,” Roamy said. “In the film too, I did a similar role and was well received.”
Like several other Konkani movies, Bhuierantlo Munis is reputed for its music. Chris Perry’s soundtrack had a Goan folk music influence, and included fast-paced dance songs, also known as dulpods, including the popular Undrea Mhojea Mama.
Asha Bhosle crooned the title track. Nokre and Adeus were sung by Adolf, and the Goan singer teamed up Mabel for Chup Chup. Adeus was originally sung by Usha Uthup, but the movie featured a male version.
Uthup’s version was included by Bardroy Baretto in his film Nachom-ia Kumpasar (2014), which revisits the doomed romance between Chris Perry and the legendary singer Lorna Cordeiro.
According to Baretto, Bhuierantlo Munis represented a zenith in the history of the confluence of music composers and filmmakers. “Konkani films were mainly produced by musicians at that time like Frank Fernand and Chris Perry,” Baretto said. “They had knowledge of the film industry and the craft. They were at the peak of things and had access to technicians.”
Barretto drew attention to the opening sequence, in which it appears that the Cave Man of the title is already dead. “I believe that the movie was slightly ahead of its time – it has a brilliant opening,” Baretto pointed out. “Very few filmmakers can do that.”