Sunday, August 9, 2015

"She Sings Again" - THE GOAN: I'm Not Here (9 August 2015)

While in England, it was wonderful to hear news of Bardroy Barreto’s film Nachom-ia Kumpasar (2015) winning the Lebara Play Audience Award at this year’s edition of the London Indian Film Festival. Just a few weeks prior, I had the pleasure of watching the movie with my parents at Panjim’s Maquinez Palace. The experience was memorable for many reasons, not least of which was that the film recalls the yesteryear soundtrack of my parents’ generation, as evidenced by the fact that I could hear my mother and others of similar age in the audience singing along to some of the songs. But as further proof of the cultural legacy of the music popularised by Lorna and Chris Perry, whose lives are fictionalised in Barreto’s film, I was additionally struck by how the twenty-somethings seated in the row in front of me would also lend chorus to the songs, many of which still play on Goan radio stations, today. It was quite the tribute to Konkani music of the 1960s, as is indeed the film Nachom-ia itself. While mainly telling the story of the relationship between its main characters, the musician Lawrence Vaz and younger singer Donna Pereira, their affair unfolds against the backdrop of the Indian film industry and its relationship with Goan musicians half a century ago.

In Nachom-ia, the highs and lows of Lawry and Donna’s relationship seem to function as a barometer of the fortunes of Goans in early Bollywood. Set primarily in Bombay, with a few scenes taking place in Goa, the film chronicles the lives of Goans in newly independent India, featuring such locations as the kudds set up by village associations in the big city. Generally bachelor societies, the kudds served as homes away from home for Goan men, and continue to function as stops for travellers to this day. And though the film has a largely male cast, it is clearly Donna’s trajectory as a singer and a woman that is the impetus of this movie. Over the course of Nachom-ia, we see Donna become more independent even as her romance with Lawry ebbs and flows. Coming from a sheltered home, Donna’s mother is epitomised as being an overly protective Catholic woman who chastises her daughter about cavorting with musicians and skipping church choir practise. It comes as much as a surprise to the audience as it does to Donna that her love interest, Lawry, is married and is soon to be a father. All of Mrs. Pereira’s concerns about her daughter’s future appear to now be warranted, for how is Donna to be a marriageable prospect if she does not matriculate, hold a serious job, or keep up with her churchly duties, leave alone stop seeing Lawry?

Yet, Barreto’s film is not a tale of failed morality, or solely one of failed love. When Donna declares to her quietly sympathetic father that the only thing she will ever be married to in this lifetime is music, Nachom-ia bears witness to a woman’s ambition apart from her relationship to men. It also foregrounds the possibility of cultural production as being a field that is viable professionally; in looking at the recent past of Goan artistry, the movie enquires of Goans how they regard the arts and artists today, and especially Goan women who are involved in such pursuits. Interestingly, the film also subverts gender roles when, for instance, it portrays men as gossips; this is the case with three men who have recurring appearances in the film as the village tell-tales who gather by a cross to share the latest information about goings-on in the community. Nonetheless, the film does not entirely demonstrate the empowerment of its women characters. More could have been done with the role of Lawry’s wife, who appears to be wilfully ignorant of her husband’s affair. Another trope in the film is that of the long-suffering woman, as is borne out in the later disappearance of Donna from the music world, and life itself.

On the one hand, Donna’s withdrawal from performing is meant to signal the poor hand dealt to Goan musicians who were once the lifeblood of Indian cinema. Even though she parts ways with Lawry, Donna continues to be successful, her pain fuelling her simultaneous descent into alcoholism but also her spirited performances. It is further proof that despite Donna’s turbulent relationship, the entertainment industry provided her with opportunities to support herself. But the change in the industry and its lack of recognition of Goan talent, in turn, affected the professional and personal lives of people like Donna and Lawry. But even within this exploration of filmic history and its impact on Goan musicians and singers, Donna’s suffering, as manifested in her self-exile from the thing she loved most in life, is over-emphasised especially because she is a woman who loses out on the love of a man. The film does ends on a note of hopefulness, and one hopes it signals a new wave of Goan cinema that has many fine stories to tell.

From The Goan.

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