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On Song

Bardroy Barretto directed Nachom-ia Kumpasar (Dance to the Rhythm) two years ago, and since then he has won three National Awards, many international awards and also made it to the Oscar list in the Best Picture and Best Original Score categories. Barretto, in a first-of-a-kind decision, has not released the film in cinemas and is instead travelling with it to various parts of the world where he knows his audience resides. Here’s Barretto in conversation with Soumita Sengupta, discussing the journey of his first feature film

The film released two years ago, and has won more than 50 awards. What kind of response are you receiving now?

The response is phenomenal. Wherever we have screened the film, we have got so much love and appreciation. After watching the film, people have held my hand and just said ‘thank you’! Even when we have screened the film at international festivals, foreigners too have accepted it. Most importantly, it is not a festival kind of film, you know, the kind that appeals to intellectuals. It is a simple love story set in the ‘real Goa’. Music plays a very big role in this film; including jazz, which was a surprise to a lot of international people. It throws up an entirely new perception of Goa and India.

Was the first step towards making a feature film easy for you?

It was not all that difficult as I worked in the advertising field. While my day job was making ads, I was also learning to edit. On and off, I would edit for friends and with friends. Over time, I learnt the other filmmaking crafts.

And what about budgets?

It was not easy. For an entire year, we tried approaching corporates in Goa but no one was interested in a Konkani film. Also, Konkani filmmakers were making films on budgets of `2-5 lakh. These were the DVD sort of films. So we decided to ask our relatives and friends. And within 10 days, we had `80 lakh. Once we started making the film, we asked for money as and when required. That’s how we raised the money.

You have been travelling with your film. Why not release it in cinemas?

Just before the release, we had a very interesting meeting where it was seven against one, with the odd one out being me. Everyone except me wanted to go to cinemas. I said if it doesn’t work, then we can go to cinemas. The first show was in Qatar; it was also the first time I watched the film. Everyone loved it there. After that, we screened it at IFFI in Goa, and that’s how the journey began. All our shows have been house full.

My motive is to reach out to my audience, which is the Konkani audience, and that’s how I choose the places and people I want to showcase the film to. It’s been two years since the film’s release and it is still running at those venues. We are also going to villages in Goa, where we arrange a screening under the open sky, where four generations watch the film together. I know my audience in Mumbai, it is in Malad, it is in IC Colony (Borivali); I can’t play the film all over the city.

The film would have died in two weeks if it had released in cinemas. We have had screenings in Australia, Canada and the Gulf, which have a strong Konkani diaspora. The model has been viable. It is impossible for small, regional films to be sustained otherwise. After the National Award, the film has been declared tax-free in Goa.

Your film is based on two singers.

Yes. I come from Goa and I wanted to give something back to the place. That’s how the idea of the film germinated. During my growing-up days, all of us used to listen to Konkani music playing on the radio at 2.30 after lunch; we used to lie down and listen to those songs. That’s how I got the connect – two jazz musicians and their love story.

Chris Perry, the composer, and Lorna, the singer, were famous jazz musicians of the ‘70s, and it was their songs. Initially, I had thought of making a biopic but I put the songs in a playlist in a sequence that also narrated their story. Then I wrote the scenes in between to take the story forward. That’s how it was structured. They all are original songs but we reproduced them. They were all mono songs of that era. Also, we didn’t use any new technology; we used the same, old instruments.

How difficult was it for you to find your Chris Perry and Lorna?

Vijay Maurya was cast five years ago. When I decided to make the film, I knew I would be casting him but we struggled to find the right girl. We wanted someone who would sing effortlessly. We first auditioned in Goa then came to Mumbai. And somebody showed me Palomi’s (Ghosh) picture. She came for an audition and sang an English song; she didn’t know Konkani. But I was convinced she means what she sings. First, she said yes and then she said no. Then I convinced her. She was cast 20 days before the shoot began. The rest of the cast is mainly from Goa.

Yours is one of the first Konkani films that has received so much appreciation. How do you view the growth in the industry?

It already started, two years ago, when our film was about to release. Then, we only had two Konkani films. Last year, there were six to seven. This year, there are 17 Konkani films, so everyone is planning to expand their vision and there are stories which need to be told.

You have been to so many international film festivals and garnered such good reviews. Has your film been picked up by a foreign distributor?

Many people have approached us, including Channel 4, which approached us twice in 2015 and again in 2016 but we said no because we are not yet done with home screenings. There were a lot of international distributors who showed interest but, again, we didn’t go down that road. I wasn’t looking at a commercial release. Now other Konkani filmmakers are following us. 

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