Much more than mere venues, the four main screening locations for the 46th International Film Festival of India provide a rich context for cinema, and between them perfectly encapsulate centuries of Panjim history, and its beautiful location on the banks of the Mandovi river.
The Maquinez Palace which houses IFFI’s media centre, and the headquarters of its host, Entertainment Society of Goa was built at the cusp of the 18th century by two brothers from Macau, the former Portuguese colony that reverted to China in 1999. Cristovam and Diago da Costa de Ataide e Tieve (the Maquinezes) first built their sprawling palace in 1702, but the building was later adapted for use by the storied Goa Medical College, the first institution of its type in Asia. The neo-classical architecture features Roman and Gothic elements, including semi-circular arched windows, wooden ceilings, cast-iron railings, and ornamental tiles with rose motifs. The private chapel is still in use by the Goa Archdiocese.
In 2006, the Maquinez Palace was again renovated, this time for the International Film Festival of India. Now the heritage complex includes an excellent art gallery, a plush theatre for screenings, as well as a state-of-the-art media centre.
This year, IFFI’s public screenings will be held each evening at Azad Maidan, a modest public city square with an outsized history. On one side is a superb neo-Roman memorial pavilion, dedicated to the Goan freedom fighter Dr Tristao de Braganca Cunha (1891 – 1958), who first spread the message of Mahatma Gandhi and the Indian freedom struggle in continental Europe, and is often referred to as “the Father of Goan nationalism.” Fittingly, the maidan remains an informal free-speech zone, and forum for protests, where different opinions are voiced, and issues concerning Goans and Goa are discussed openly.
The buildings surrounding Azad Maidan are equally significant: the site of the first public library in Asia, the offices of the first printing presses in Asia, and the Institute Menezes Braganza which generations of proud citizens of Panjim endowed with a peerless contemporary art collection including originals by Renoir and Camille Pissarro, and great Goan artists like Francis Newton Souza and Vasudeo Gaitonde.
Further down the river is the stunning Kala Academy, a masterpiece of design conceived by Charles Correa, the world-renowned, late Goan architect. Year-round, Kala Academy is home to outstanding conservatories for Indian and Western classical music, and develops dance, drama, fine art, folk art, and literature to promote the cultural unity of the state. Its lovely premises open up to panoramic views of the Mandovi river, and the tastefully restored Reis Magos fortress on the opposite bank.
The main auditorium used for IFFI screenings at Kala Academy is named after the Goan master musician, Dinanath Mangueshkar, whose daughters Asha Bhonsle and Lata Mangeshkar are the two most recorded musicians in world history, and provide the instantly recognizable soundtracks of innumerable Indian films. Charmingly decorated with character sketches by Goa’s beloved artist, the late Mario de Miranda, the space seats 1000, and is the venue for the state’s annual D.S. Kosambi ‘Festival of Ideas’ that brings great personalities to Goa for public lectures, as well as an extensive programme of theatre, concerts and other performances.
Most IFFI screenings are hosted at the INOX cineplex, which was built when the festival moved to Goa just over a decade ago. Magnificent rain trees in the courtyard shade the 150-year-old building that once housed the first medical college in Asia, from where the first Western-trained physicians reached throughout India to South-East Asia and Japan, and across the ocean to East Africa.