Tuesday , 24 September 2019
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It’s all about rice

Frederick Noronha

It seems like quite a while back that I first learnt that Vince Costa was working on a documentary film on rice. Even though we’ve had some long telephonic conversations, I’ve not had the chance to interact much with Vince, mainly on grounds of geography. But rice seemed like a fascinating subject, and the interest of this young man in the field is more than apparent.
Last week, Vince screened his film at Alto Porvorim, during the Xavier Centre of Historical Research’s History Hour series. It is always nice when work and plans come to fruition. But it’s even better when the results surpass expectations. It was quite an eye-opener, especially for those like me who have never stepped into the field for a purpose other than playing as a child.

Vince, a musician from Curtorim, says he spent four years to create the film. Elsewhere, he has commented that four years might seem like a long time, till you consider the fact that the farmers, field-workers and other agriculturists have spent their entire lifetime, and generations, in the field.

Goa’s agriculture has been under intense pressure in recent times. In the 1960s and 1970s, we were led to believe that the fields in our small state were seeing harvests of gold. You could blame that on the over-enthusiasm of unrealistic official statistics; but figures alone whose veracity is unclear don’t fill the stomach as Modi’s India is reminding us.
At the same time, a lot of other changes have also taken place in the fields of Goa.

The tourism boom followed by intense real estate speculation, have pushed up land rates. Urban planning laws have, ironically enough, created artificial shortages in the land market, and significantly boosted political corruption in land deals.
Labour is in short supply, as joint families turn nuclear (well pointed to in this film). Government and white-collar jobs pay infinitely more compared to agriculture, so why would anyone give serious attention to professions like farming and agriculture? Rationed rice supplies have artificially kept prices down, which benefit the urban consumers but hit the farmers. Traditional varieties of rice are getting lost, as is again well discussed by the film in question.
Vince Costa’s film has some scenic shots, candid interviews with humble but knowledgeable fieldworkers, articulate urbanites and environmentalist-scientists and academicians. It freezes for generations to come a record of life in Goa in the 2010s, together with memories of the current generation of how they depended on rice in the not so remote past.
As the historian Fatima Gracias points out, Goa has long been inadequate in growing its own food. It has been dependent on the neighbouring areas for food imports, over centuries in history.

Even now, when technology and new solutions make things possible, we are facing new challenges, newer problems.
But the film does not sink into excessive pessimism, as often happens when discussing issues related to Goa. It points to new initiatives in the field, how technology is being used in some small way, and how maybe the Don Bosco-initiated agriculture college at Sulcorna in Quepem could hopefully help create young talent the situation before it is too late.
Above all, films like these also act as a record of what exists and what existed. If we do not forget the situation entirely, then there is some hope that Goa’s rice story does not repeat what happened to salt in Goa. Prior to the Anglo-Portuguese Treaty in the late 19th century, Goa was one of the most impressive producers of traditional salt in these parts of the globe.

Today, it gets produced in a handful of villages.
Vince Costa’s film has touched a chord because many know what he is saying is a reality we have all but forgotten. He also touches the sensitive issues of caste and class, and the unfair burden plus low social status that falls on those who work in the field.
The anthropologist Robert Newman, who has studied Goa since the late 1970s, commented that he had seen Costa’s film last year. He added: “It’s really a great one. I told him I wished that I could have made such a film as it’s a really fantastic anthropological film, but I have no knowledge of film-making and I could not have done the work in any case.” Quite a compliment, indeed.
Vince, who travels with the film to Europe (Paris, Lisbon and Amsterdam) later this month, himself adds: “We are in an urgent need for more anthropologists and documentarians.”

His film, called ‘Saxtticho Koddo, The Granary of Salcete’, was directed and cinematographed by Vince himself, edited by Gasper D’Souza, and credits for drone photography go to Dunstan Dias. The colourist is Prashant Sharma while sound editing and design are by Tilak Goswami.
Don’t forget, if you’d like to arrange a screening, you could talk to Vince at itsvincecosta@gmail.com. In a state where we only inadequately appreciate something innovative emerging locally, here’s a thank you for this charming story well told.

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