Exploring the Goan Cultural Significance of the famous Konkani lullaby – ‘Dhol Mujhea Bai’

Author: Gauri Kshirsagar

‘Dhol Mujea Bai’ / धोल मुझ्या बाय is an evergreen and beloved konkani lullaby, which every Goan grew up listening. First released in 1966 from the movie ‘NIRMON’. Originally sang by Shalini Mardolkar, Lyrics by C. Alvares and Music Frank Fernand. In this article I have tried to explore the cultural significance of this song and the movie.

The Konakani movie ‘Nirmon (1966)’ was Frank Fernand’s second production. It had story and direction of A. Salam and music by Frank Fernand himself, dialogues by C. Alvares, screenplay and editing by R. V. Shirkhande. The film stars Shalini Mardolkar, C. Alvares, Anthony D’Sa, Jacint Vaz, Antonette Mendes, Ophelia, Jack Souza Ferrao and J. P. Souzalin.  The film won two National Awards. C. Alvares (Celestino Alvares), known as the “King of Duets” received the award for best actor. This film won the Certificate of Merit for regional films at the 13th National Film Awards, the first of its kind for Konkani. Nirmonn is based on Lord Tennyson’s character from the 1864 poem Enoch Arden. It follows a story of a, destitute woman with three children, who after believing that her husband has passed away is forced to marry a wealthy male she dislikes.

Since the movie is set in Goa, almost 4- 5years after Goan Liberation, there are certain regional and cultural specific elements that cannot be overlooked. One such important element is music. The movie has beautiful songs like “Korat Upkar”, “Dol Mhojea Bai”, “Claudia”, “Nach Atamchem”, “Vavraddi Kunbi”.

Most places which have a history of Portuguese or Spanish colonialism also have a tradition of music. While the Portuguese administration made the study of Western music (sight singing as well as playing of musical instruments, most prominently the violin, the guitar, the accordion, and brass wind instruments) compulsory in schools across Goa, the Konkani Christians had their own folk forms of music such as the dulpod (dance songs with a quick rhythm and themes from everyday life), which was an equivalent to the Kunnbi of the oldest peasant inhabitants of Goa, which is represented by the song ‘Kunbi Varaddhi’ in the movie. The mando is the creolized form of Konkani music, a rich synthesis of Eastern and Western forms, and developed in the 19th and 20th century- Claudia is a typical mando, with its central theme being love. In performance mode, the mando uses Western suits with coat tails for men and traditional torop bazu for women.

Another important regional element that one can see is that the movie is the form of the tiatr or the local form of musical theatre, which includes music, dance and singing. Revolving around social, religious and political themes, a defining characteristic of tiatr is the use of song and dance between acts. These songs (Kant, pl. kantaram) are not directly linked to the content or issues raised by the drama, are satirical and are accompanied by a live band, including a keyboard, trumpets, guitars and drums.

The song ‘Nach Atamchem’ is a perfect example of kant– the song plays no role in furthering the narrative, but at the same time raises an important issue- the subsuming of Konkani music over global trends of the time, such as pop, twits and rock and roll. The traditional role of the jester/idiot, who exposes ugly social truths through crude, slapstick comedy, is retained in the form of the drunkard and the hopeless romantic.. For most Goan kids like me, tiatrs were ubiquitous. No parish feast is complete without one. In the villages, and to a lesser extent in cities, political leaders are lampooned during the comedy interludes, the irreverence sometimes veering dangerously close to defamation. If a politician blunders, his entire family could land in the tiatrist’s crosshairs. The loudest applause is reserved for the singers who scream out loud the opinions that are whispered in Goa’s many village taverns.

Citation: ‘A Critical Reading of the 1966 Konkani Movie Nirmonn’ by Kevin Fernandes

Following is my daughter’s rendition of the song ‘Dhol Mujhea bai’ from the movie ‘Nirmon’

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