“Te undde gele ani tepoderui gele”: gone is the bread with them, the bread makers. This is a common phrase in Goa while lamenting about the good old days.
Goan bread was introduced by Portuguese Jesuits in the 16th century. Today, this humble food item – handmade, wood-fired and available in various shapes and sizes – is intertwined with the culture and identity of Goans. What happens when migrants inherit the business? This is among the themes explored by Sonia Filinto’s Bread and Belonging.
The 50-minute documentary has sections on Alzira and her family from Ribandar, who have been making bread for generations, Ram and his co-workers, who have taken over a business in Anjuna, and attempts to revive traditional baking methods.
“There is a heightened nostalgia about Goan bread over the past few years,” Filinto said after a recent screening of the documentary at the Fundacao Oriente in Panaji. “I was keen on looking closely at this triptych. I was also interested in this whole idea of something like bread that came from outside and became an insider and an integral part of Goa. Is something similar possible in today’s age?”
Although Goan bread is a staple, family-run bakeries have been shutting shop due to financial obstacles. In a moving scene in the documentary, the owner of the Alzira family bakery breaks down while speaking about the expenditure involved in having to price the bread at Rs 4.
The void is being filled by migrants, who lease out the establishments. “As one of the migrant bakers told me, Goa is to us what Dubai is to you Goans,” Filinto said. In another scene, the migrant poder reveal that they eat the bread not because they like it, but because it’s easily available and cheaper than puri.
The takeover of traditional occupations by migrants is a universal phenomenon, Filinto observed. “You arrive in Rome and one of the first things you see is Bangladeshi-run pizza joints. A friend from Kerala was telling me that in Calicut, the cooks in the very traditional local cuisine restaurants are from outside the state. So these exchanges have been going on forever”.
Both locals and migrants struggle to hire workers for the long and laborious hours involved in bread-making. “In the film, Ram, the baker, says that not many like to take this job as one has to cycle around the town with a basket of bread to sell,” Filinto said.
The documentary ends on a hopeful note: it follows Marius Fernandes, the organiser of the annual Poderache Fest, a celebration of breadmakers, in Succour village. The festival highlights the near-extinct technique of using palm toddy instead of yeast for fermentation.
“The coming together of the community is vital for the survival of traditional art,” Filinto pointed out. “It was interesting to see how links were forged in real time to make toddy bread a reality for the community festival. There was certainly immense nostalgia for toddy bread at the festival. But can we go back to adlea tempar [the good old days] is a question that is up in the air.”
The film’s striking visuals are by Saumyananda Sahi, who made the documentary Remembering Kurdi and is the cinematographer of the award-winning Eeb Allay Ooo! Bread and Belonging has been edited by Rikhav Desai, whose credits include Court.
Filinto’s producer, Mamta Murthy, had watched Saumyananda’s film. “The sensitivity there aligned with what I was aiming for in Bread and Belonging,” Filinto said. “We discussed how the bread would be as much as a character in the film as the baker. The film’s perspective of Goa in its bylanes moves away from its obvious tourist charms. Saumyananda’s lens has wonderfully celebrated the art of working with hands. And Rikhav’s last-mile patience and attention to detail were invaluable contributions.”
Filinto’s previous films include Shifting Sands, which looks at Goa’s traditional fishing community, and The Meal, in which historian Fatima da Silva Gracias, history professor Prajal Sakhardande, chef Floyd Cardoz and Portugal-born Goan resident Pedro Novais speak about the journey of Goan bread.
Bread and Belonging was crowdfunded, raising Rs eight lakh from 85 contributors. “Additionally, so many people contributed with their time, expertise and resources beyond finances that it’s hard to peg a figure at what it cost to make the film,” Filinto said.