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Myth about Goan stereotypes in Bollywood

By Sachin Chatte
To continue with the issue of Goan stereotypes in Bollywood films, which came up again with the release of Finding Fanny (you can read the previous article at http://bit.ly/1xq5Woi), here are some more thoughts on it. Let me argue, in effect, that the myth of the Goan stereotype flows not so much from the sins of Bollywood as from a fiction that persists because it is so much easier to lay the blame on Mumbai.
Caricatures and stock characters feature in cinema, TV and the stage, not just in India but beyond as well. True, they tend to stand out in Bollywood because Hindi films are a source of relatively unsophisticated entertainment, but when a serious filmmaker takes up a potentially contentious socio-cultural subject, they can do an admirable job with the same material. In the context of Goa, a case in point would be Shyam Benegal’s films: there is little fault you can find with either Bhumika or Trikaal.
There is no need for me to elaborate on the uniqueness of Goa. It has been a favorite holiday destination for decades and its popularity continues to grow, both among tourists and as a film destination. Over the years, more than 125 films have been shot here and among this year’s releases alone there’s Singham 2, Kick, Hate Story 2, Yaariyan, Lekar Hum Deewana Dil, Ek Villain (in which Remo plays a don) 3 a.m., Youngistaan, Jackpot, Finding Fanny, all of which were shot in Goa, and 2014 is not over yet.
So clearly, Goa remains the Number One state for filmmakers and they all have a soft corner and love for the place, or else why would they be here? It’s unlikely they come in droves to Goa and squander millions of rupees only in order to mock and misrepresent local characters.
Now, if a Bollywood filmmaker wants Christian characters in her film, she largely has two options on where to set it: Bandra or Goa. The general perception is that Goa is a Christian majority state, which it once was though this is no longer factually correct. This misconception may still remain because the decline in Christian population has been gradual over the years without any upheaval in society compared to say the changing demographic realities of Kashmir. Once upon a time, plenty of romantic films were shot in Kashmir Valley but after terrorism took centre stage most films set in the vale have been about conflict (Shaurya, Yahaan, Tahaan, Lamhaa, Mission Kashmir, Sikander, Lakshya and recently Haider). Amusingly and somewhat tragically, Yeh Jawaani Hain Deewani was shot in Kashmir, but its scenic beauty was passed off as Manali. But in Goa, the transition to a non-Christian demography has been so smooth that outside the state not many have noticed it.
If you take the portrayal of the Christian community as a whole in Hindi cinema, then for every vamp played by Helen (Helen Richardson; of Anglo-Burmese origin, I hasten to add) and others, there have been memorably sweet and noble Christian characters as well – John Chacha who takes two little children under his wings in Boot Polish (1954); Lalita Pawar, better known for her evil roles, played a motherly Mrs D’Sa to Raj Kapoor in Anari (1959); and if anyone says Nancy and Tony in the same breath, then Amol Palekar and Tina Munim from Baton Baton Mein (1979) spring to mind.
But let’s look specifically at the Goa angle, and the common accusation that Goans are portrayed as drunkards.
Just a quick mise-en-scène before we get to the point. The cultural fascination with drinking, and the lyrical and metaphorical elements of intoxication, are as old in this part of the world as this part of the world itself. From the Persian poet Omar Khayyam, to Mir, Mirza Ghalib and Harivansh Rai Bachchan’s Madhushala, to contemporary poets like Bashir Badr, much philosophising has emerged from and about the cup that “clears Today of past Regrets and future Fears.” It is no surprise that Hindi films have romanticised drinking in tragedy, comedy and in song, sometimes as an act of despair or rebellion, often as a metaphor, occasionally with a touch of astuteness to the lyrics, like Zindagi Khwaab hain Khwaab mein (picturized on Motilal playing the almost perfect screen drunk in Jagte Raho, 1956).
There have been songs on characters that are contemplating drink, drunk, or in the process of getting there. From vintage hits like Hui Sham Unka Khayal Agaya (Mere Hum Dum Mere Dost), Jo unki tamanna hai (Inteqam) to Bachchan’s Thodi si jo pe lee hain (Namak Halaal), and songs from Shaarabi to Nana Patekar and Raj Kumar going overboard in Tiraanga (Pe lee pe lee) to Ganpat chal daaru la, the list of drinking songs in Hindi cinema is endless.
How many have been damaging to Goa and Goans, I wonder.
I can think of one: Pran frolicking in a bar in Majboor, singing “phir na kehna Michael daru peeke danga karta hai”. No other song has given the impression that Goans are drunkards as this Laxmikant Pyarelal composition may have, but this really is an exception.
Keshto Mukherjee was the quintessential drunkard of Hindi films. He played a comic alcoholic in over 100 films and, barring Chupke Chupke (where he played a character named James), he never portrayed a drunken Goan.
Another important stereotype to consider would be women who are shown drinking alcohol in Hindi films. For a society that is otherwise so traditional, inebriated women have been singing on screen for ages. Who can forget Meena Kumari’s Na Jao Saiyyan (Sahib Biwi Aur Ghulam), Waheeda Rehman’s Rangeela re (Prem Pujari), to contemporary girls going Talli and the brilliant revival of Maine hothon se lagaye to (originally from Anhonee, made popular by Queen). There have been female tipplers like Helen’s Monica in Caravan, but how many sloshed women characters can you recall from a film set in Goa? I couldn’t think of a single one.
Even Helen’s Kitty Kelly in Gumnaam (the famous Gum chod ke manao rang reli shot on Vagator beach) says, “Mujhe shaarabi pas and hain sharaab nahin.”
Beyond Hindi film tropes, one could argue that Goa’s association with alcohol comes from the simple fact that for a population of 14 lakhs the state has close to 9000 bar licenses. Compare this with a city like Bangalore: Goa has a fraction (15 per cent) of Bangalore’s population of 96 lakhs, but almost four times the number of bars (Bangalore has 2500). So there is one bar per 155 persons in Goa compared to one bar per 4000 people in Bangalore.
Bollywood didn’t make that up.
The fact is Hindi cinema is also changing for the better, and even middle-brow films have a mature understanding of the world they did not possess in the days our youth. There have been none of these imagined ‘Goan stereotypes’ in Hindi films these last couple of decades, though many films were shot in Goa during this time. Even before that there isn’t a great deal of evidence to suggest otherwise.
Here are some of the films set in Goa over the years – it would be a challenge to find the typecasts in it: Jaal (1952, dir Guru Dutt), Saat Hindustani (1969, Dir K A Abbas and Amitabh Bachchan’s first film which incidentally was about the liberation of Goa), Bhumika (1977, Dir Shyam Benegal, based on Hansa Wadkars story), Ek Duje ke Liye (1981, Dir K Balachander one of the earliest films that showed the landmark places and popularised them all over the country), Trikaal (1985, Dir Shyam Benegal, Mario Cabral E Sa was a script-consultant ), Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa (1994, Dir Kundan Shah), Khamoshi (1996, Sanjay Leela Bhansali), Honeymoon Travels, Dil Chahata Hain (2001, Dir Farhan Akhtar, only a small segment was set and shot in Goa, but since then every tourist wants to visit Vagator fort), My Brother Nikhil (2005, Dir Onir, based on the life of Dominic D’Souza, Goa’s first HIV patient), Guzaarish (2010, Dir Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Hrithik played a quadriplegic named Ethan Mascarenhas), Singham (2011, Dir Rohit Shetty who has shot almost all his films in Goa).
Where are the stereotypes?
(sachinchatte@gmail.com)

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