Tuesday, May 11, 2010

What’s in a name? For M. Boyer it’s his identity

What’s in a name? For M. Boyer it’s his identity

If the famed Goan tiatrist M. Boyer, 74, (born Oct. 11, 1930) honored on Republic Day with a Padma Shri, were not humiliated in school by his principal, would he still have turned out to be the darling of the tiatr fans at home and abroad? And if Manuel Aguiar were not prohibited from participating in tiatr while in school, would the tiatr-loving world still have celebrated his talents on the Konkani stage?

I was thinking about the septuagenarian Manuel this week as another highest honor was bestowed on this son of the Goan soil in the sunset of his years, indeed in the twilight of his weakened voice and awareness.

What’s in a name, asked Shakespeare, another celebrated English playwright of the Renaissance, who wrote and acted in as many plays (over 30) as are attributed to
M. Boyer in the 20th century. In the play Romeo and Juliet, upon discovering that his love interest, Juliet, comes from the household of his inveterate enemy, Romeo declaims that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. Indeed it would.

However, in the case of young Manuel Aguiar, it was a question of identity, a question that continues to gnaw at the consciousness of Goans, long inured to the Portuguese domination, even after 43 years of Liberation. It was a similar angst of identity that played upon the consciousness of a teenaged Manuel who simply wanted to sing his heart out and have some fun on the Konkani palcao back in the 40s and early 50s.

As a fellow Goan I salute M. Boyer’s achievements; as a former schoolmate of his in Margao, I’m saddened to recall his struggles with the principal who tried to block his tiatrist ambitions. I was a student of Instituto de Educacao Catolica (Catholic Educational Institute) from 1946-52 and the principal, Mr. Almeida from Assolna, would boast that our school was centro numero uno in Mocidade Portuguesa in the whole of Goa.

I wasn’t aware of Manuel Aguiar, a few years older than me, until 1949 when I heard him play the bugle before the start of the 40-minute morning drill for mocidade in the rectangle of the Holy Spirit Church. Well-built with a prominent nose and handsome, he sounded happy as he pressed his lips to the bugle that held the attention of boys and girls assembled in the red square in platoons of twelve.

The school was run from two buildings—campus would be too fancy a description. The elementary section stood on Agostinho Vincente Lourenco Road across from the left side of the church and the high school was at a jog in the Largo da Igreja and Abade Faria Road. Last year when I visited Goa I was shocked to see the two buildings still there, albeit shriveled up and dilapidated, mute specimens of dark memories of long ago.

Now Manuel came to school on his bicycle from the Fatorda side and at both the drills during morning and afternoon, his presence was conspicuous as if he loved Mocidade Portuguesa which, of course, was the grand passion of the principal. Mr. Almeida, a martinet of a disciplinarian, put his student body of about 100 or so through a rigorous workout of marcar passos in efforts to curry favors with the Portuguese administration that indulged him with funds.

Once, for a couple of weeks in 1949, Manuel attended one class in my Standard IV classroom in the elementary section. Being a monitor of my class, I took more than passing interest in this older student. However, a year later I was shocked to hear the principal reprimand Manuel at a student assembly. Mr. Almeida had attended a tiatr the previous evening where he saw his student singing a clown when he had expressly forbidden him to do so.

“Aum tuca funkiac xincoittam murre, kakut corun tujia familicher ani iskoll xinkpache suater tum tiatrant nachotta,” Almeida told him. (I am teaching you free of charge, having pity on your family, and instead of studying you are wasting your time in tiatr.) A pin drop silence fell upon the students. I craned my neck to see Manuel who was sitting on the last bench at the rear by the door. His head was down.

“And you could not even remember your song,” Almeida taunted him in English. “I could hear the prompter but you could not. And then I saw you again, peeking from behind the side curtain, like a fool. If you do that again, I will expel you forever from my school.”

At this point, Manuel bolted out from the room, causing whispers and moans in his wake. As if that was the only reason for calling the assembly, the lean, gray-haired principal ended the meeting with a short prayer. Shortly afterwards Manuel dropped out of our school.

At this time I too was getting interested in tiatr after singing a bikari song in a play staged by a talented playwright and song writer from Baga, Velim. Then a Konkani film Mogacho Aunddo by Jerry Braganza opened in Margao, a film that impressed me so much that I would write another version of it called Mog Jiklo in six pordhe with complete songs bearing on the theme.

Then one day in 1951 I saw handbills being distributed in the old market near our school. The flyer called attention to a tiatr titled Boglanti written by M. Boyer and carried a halftone photo of Manuel Aguiar. I gazed at the paper with surprise and joy and realized what Manuel had done. I had seen a movie starring Charles Boyer, the Hollywood comedian. The handsome photo proclaimed to me that he had arrived on the tiatr scene.

Until then Kid Boxer, Young Menezes, and Minguel Rod were the main attractions at the Damodar Vidya Hall in Comba, Margao with flyers featuring Kid-Young-Rod. Soon I began to see Boyer’s name among the hyphenated trios, Rod-Young-Boyer, Boyer-Mendes-Vaz (Anthony Mendes and Jacinto Vaz).

Curious to see and hear M. Boyer on stage, I went to a tiatr in Comba where Minguel Rod was featured among the other notables. I was able to get in free as if I was part of the stage crew and I hung around the perimeters of the backstage to see the stalwarts of the Goan tiatr at close range. M. Boyer came in at half-time and approached the business manager and promoter of the show.
“Vis rupia ek clownanc,” Boyer said. (Twenty rupees a song)
“Magir farir kortam tuca,” said the manager. (I’ll pay you later)
“Na, na, poile poixe dhi maca ani magir aum cantar kortam,” Boyer replied. (No, no, pay me first and then I’ll sing.)
From five feet away I watched this with amazement, surprised that Boyer would be so bold and business-like.
“Tumi he triatists kednai satisfeit zainai,” said the manager and gave Boyer 20 rupees. (You tiatrists are never satisfied).
Boyer sang his clown and departed immediately afterwards. This little backstage by-play has remained with me all these years, like an indelible first impression or the memory of first love-making.

In another year Boyer made his debut in Bombay at the popular Bhangwaddi theatre in Cavel, and truly launched his career as a tiatrist. I watched him here in late 1954 and noted for the first time his comic talent. Sometime in 1956 I ran into him again in Dhobitalao.
“Arre Herculano, kess ass tum?” Boyer said and shook my hand in Third Marine Lines.
“Aum boro assam.”
“Goeam guelolo? Almeidac meulolo?” he asked looking handsomer than ever with his moustache.
I was taken aback that he would ask about his old principal.
“I was in Goa last year for a month,” I said switching to English. “Now the border is closed as you know. You still remember Almeida?” I didn’t want to tell him that I too had left his school in 1952 out of frustration and went to New Era for my final SSC year.
“He was all right,” said Boyer showing no tinge of spite.
“Glad you’re doing well in tiatr. Almeida couldn’t keep you down.”
“Borem, kednaim yo mugue tiatrac, aum tuca pass ditolom,” he said. (Well, come to my tiatr sometime, I’ll give you a pass.)
As it happened, I never took him up on his offer.

Flash forward to January, 1966. I was working as a reporter for the Indian Express in Bombay. In the intervening years Boyer had become a huge success and popular with tiatr fans in Bombay and Goa. He had also appeared in a couple of Konkani movies.

At the intersection of Second Marine Lines and First Marine Lines near the Kit Kat restaurant stood a building where a Goan was running a gambling joint. Here on the first floor I often played rummy whenever I was on day call duty from 3-10 pm. One day I saw C. Alvares there, looking bored and sitting alone at the round table.

When I entered the room around 1:30 the owner promptly brought out two decks of cards and said, “You two can start playing; people will join you later.”

The handsome bearded face with green eyes that I had watched with delight in Margao with Mohana in 1953, looked at me and said, “You deal.”
“Paisa a point okay?” I asked while shuffling. He nodded.
We must have played about five hands when I noticed the time: 2:30 “Sorry to leave you, but I’ve got to go to work,” I said.
“Fine,” he said.
I left a rupee in the kitty box from the four I’d won and said, “I’ll be here tomorrow at the same time.” He merely shrugged as if he cared.

I had heard stories about his breakup with the Hindi film star Mohana, a Goan
from Porvorim, who’d brought sexy allure to the Konkani stage and oodles of money to the Romeo from Saligao.

When I came to play the next afternoon, he was sitting alone at the table. He looked up as soon as I entered and smiled. “Koho ai tum?”
“Boro assam,” I said.

The previous day we didn’t make any small talk other than about the play. He played cards out of boredom, I thought, not to win. He seemed knowledgeable and interested in rummy, though, from the manner he discarded the cards. He was 10 years older than me and at 40 and a bachelor, he strutted on the Konkani stage like a rooster exuding charm and sexual energy in duets with Remmie Colaco and later with Mohana. He also distinguished himself as a director and actor in tiatr and movies.

“M.Boyer and I went to the same school in Margao,” I said. “I am impressed by his success.”
He held my eyes for a long second as if he didn’t like my comment. After we finished the hand, I looked at my wristwatch.
“Where do you work?” he asked.
“At the Indian Express. I’m a reporter there.”
“Oh.” The green eyes glittered and another smile played about his mouth framed by a beard styled in the manner of Robert Taylor in the movie Quo Vadis.

I thought he was impressed with the idea of a hotshot tiatrist playing rummy with a newspaper reporter, and both Goans.
I brought up M. Boyer’s name again. This time he said, “Tho boro cantor.”
“And as an actor?”
C. Alvares shrugged his shoulders as if to say he can’t hold a candle to me.

Shortly afterwards, while riding the red BEST bus to Sassoon Docks, I pondered over that comment, which today I consider a fitting tribute to M. Boyer by a fellow tiatrist, himself a charming celebrity of his time.

As published in Goan Observer when M.Boyer received the Padma Shree Award
at the hands of Indian President Abdul Kalam.

[Grateful thanks to Mr. Ben Antao (Canada) for forwarding the article to gaspar almeida, www.goa-world.com].

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A big e-welcome to you. Tumcam Maie-mogacho ieukar. Enjoy Life - This is not a rehearsal! Konkani uloi, boroi, vach ani samball - sodankal. Hich Goenchi osmitai ani amchem khalxelponn. Goenchi amchi Konkani bhas! Ekvottachem saddon Goenkaranchem. This is Gaspar Almeida from Parra, Bardez, Goa, based in Kuwait and am connected with the www.goa-world.com website created by Ulysses Menezes, and as Moderator of the famous first of its kind Gulf-Goans e-Newsletter (since 1994) and The Goan Forum and several Goan and Indian associations and forums and e-forums in Goa, India, Kuwait, The Middle East and worldwide.