IFFI 2023: A film on jazz legend Braz Gonsalves made it to the Film Bazaar

The extraordinary life of Goa’s jazz legend, Braz Gonsalves, has been documented by Nalini Elvino de Sousa in the film 'Raga Rock - the Jazz Odyssey of Braz Gonsalves'
(L to R): Musicians Jarryd Rodrigues, Louis Banks, Braz Gonsalves and Yvonne Gonsalves  at a concert in 2019.
(L to R): Musicians Jarryd Rodrigues, Louis Banks, Braz Gonsalves and Yvonne Gonsalves at a concert in 2019.Gomantak Times

Nicole Suares

Goa had plenty to celebrate at the Film Bazaar this year. Panjim-based Nalini Elvino de Sousa joined the other Goan filmmakers in pitching her films to prospective producers at the market. Nalini is no stranger to film fests, but this inclusion at one of the world’s most prestigious film festivals, marked a feather on home ground.

It is also the first time that documentaries entered the market.

(L to R): Musicians Jarryd Rodrigues, Louis Banks, Braz Gonsalves and Yvonne Gonsalves  at a concert in 2019.
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Her film at the bazaar, Raga Rock – the Jazz Odyssey of Braz Gonsalves, delves deep into the exemplary life of the great Goan son, traversing boundaries and timelines.

It pieces together forgotten music tours, memories of musicians who played alongside him, and his immense contribution to the jazz scene in India.

Jazz great Braz Gonsalves in concert in 2019.
Jazz great Braz Gonsalves in concert in 2019.

In the past, Nalini’s films turned the lens on the noted Goan-origin journalist in Africa, the late Aquino Braganza in Special Envoy. It won the Award of Merit in Liberation/Social Justice/Protest at the Accolade Global Film Competition in 2018.

The Club, based on the stories of the diaspora Goans in Dar-es-Salaam and Zanzibar, picked up the Best Historical Film and Best Feature Documentary Film awards at the Sofia International Film Festival in May-August 2023. She shares details about her recent project.

(L to R): Musicians Jarryd Rodrigues, Louis Banks, Braz Gonsalves and Yvonne Gonsalves  at a concert in 2019.
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Q

What are your thoughts on your selection for the Film Bazaar's co-production segment this year?

A

In a ground-breaking move, the Film Bazaar has opened its doors to documentaries for the first time. I could sense from the inaugural speech that one of the reasons was the Oscar-winning documentary The Elephant Whisperers. Of course, there will be other reasons, but this is a good sign for all Indian filmmakers who believe in the power of documentaries.

From the 98 entries, they included mine, Raga Rock – the Jazz Odyssey of Braz Gonsalves, amongst the 12 selected films. Being selected for the Film Bazaar fills my team with immense pride. It serves as a powerful incentive for us, as we believe we possess a real gem we want to show the world.

Director and co-author of 'Raga Rock - the Jazz Odyssey of Braz Gonsalves', Maria Meireles, (left) and renowned Carnatic vocalist Ramamani (right).
Director and co-author of 'Raga Rock - the Jazz Odyssey of Braz Gonsalves', Maria Meireles, (left) and renowned Carnatic vocalist Ramamani (right).
Q

How did the big presentation go?

A

Maria, Gasper and I spent over two months preparing for the pitch. Although I had a pitching experience almost a decade ago in Bulgaria where I presented Dances of Goa in Balchik, this was overwhelming.

Being on home turf and having poured our hearts and souls into this project, standing on the main stage felt like exposing myself to all the vulnerabilities that come with such a commitment.

Despite the nerves, the response to the pitch has been positive, instilling confidence in me and my team, with whom I am constantly in touch on WhatsApp. 

 

(L to R): Musicians Jarryd Rodrigues, Louis Banks, Braz Gonsalves and Yvonne Gonsalves  at a concert in 2019.
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Q

What sparked the idea for the documentary?

A

The idea sprouted when the team organized a sold-out musical concert at Kala Academy, Panjim, followed by another successful performance at Ravindra Bhavan, Margao.

Four decades after he retired from the jazz scene, Maria and I issued him a challenge that would re-ignite the dormant embers of his passion. We dared him to encapsulate his remarkable life in a youngsters' musical.

With a glint of renewed vigour and unwavering resolve, he embraced this task. As if that wasn’t enough, Braz Gonsalves, 85 years young then, embraced a second challenge with equal enthusiasm. Alongside some of his seasoned bandmates, they captivated the audience in an unforgettable sold-out concert at Kala Academy, Goa.

 

A musical produced by the legendary jazz musician, Braz Gonsalves.
A musical produced by the legendary jazz musician, Braz Gonsalves.
Q

Can you tell us about the film? 

A

It is an extraordinary tale, woven with music, faith and love. Braz’ early life and career translated into a journey beyond India; he combined the raagas the foundation of Indian classical music with jazz.

A pioneer in fusing jazz and Indian classical alongside his band, featuring renowned Carnatic vocalist, Ramamani, he embarked on a transcending mission. Together, the Sangam Jazz band, with Braz himself, Ramamani, Rajgopal, Ranjit Barot, Ramesh Shottam and Louis Banks, carried the soulful tunes of Indian classical music on the wings of jazz, traversing the European continent and elevating the name of India to the heights it had never before touched.

But, at the pinnacle of his career, Braz Gonsalves made an enigmatic decision to bid adieu to jazz. At 40, our beloved and acclaimed saxophonist decided to live a humble life with his wife, jazz singer Yvonne Gonsalves daughter of the famous Mumbai musician Chic Chocolate  in beautiful Goa, his homeland.

As 2024 approaches, Braz will mark his 90th journey around the sun. His enduring faith in jazz music stands as a beacon of inspiration. His life is a testament, a living proof that with unyielding faith and the progressive assimilatory nature of jazz, the realm of the impossible becomes the canvas upon which one can paint one's dreams

 

(L to R): Musicians Jarryd Rodrigues, Louis Banks, Braz Gonsalves and Yvonne Gonsalves  at a concert in 2019.
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Q

Tell us about the team involved in this film.

A

The team currently is a tight-knit group, comprising me, the director and co-author, Maria Meireles, a Portuguese conductor and singer, Gasper D’Souza, my indispensable editor, Vikas Urs, who does wonders as a cameraperson, and Ravi Kumar, to whom I entrusted the sound in this documentary.

They have been the backbone of the project since its inception in 2019. In Portugal, I have a production company, Real Ficção, which has backed me since my first documentary as a co-production, Special Envoy

Director and co-author of 'Raga Rock - the Jazz Odyssey of Braz Gonsalves', Maria Meireles, (right) discusses a musical with legendary jazz musician Braz Gonsalves (left).
Director and co-author of 'Raga Rock - the Jazz Odyssey of Braz Gonsalves', Maria Meireles, (right) discusses a musical with legendary jazz musician Braz Gonsalves (left).
Q

What have you learned about the life of Braz Gonsalves through this process that may be unknown to the rest?

A

Braz was the first Goan to perform at the Macau International Jazz Festival in 1977, and it was here that his international career truly began. He went alone and played with international jazz musicians, followed by the Cascais Jazz festival in 1978.

In Cascais, one of the musicians who played with him was the Brazilian pianist, Marcos Resende. Maria Meireles and I met him in 2019 in Lisbon, and spontaneously, after the interview, he composed a beautiful melody for Braz on the piano, which was recorded and shared with Braz in Goa. Two years later, he passed away. We were shocked, but we have this moment he created for Braz, and we hope to pay homage to him somehow along the way.

Q

What was shooting with Gonsalves like?

A

Whenever I discover some new material, I share it with Braz, revealing a new chapter in his life. I always cherish our conversations because he never fails to share something new.

Turning 90 next year, I often realize that I may only capture the tip of the iceberg, highlighting the memories that contributed to his fame and shaped who he is.

 

Q

How did you approach writing the script? What is the kind of research involved in piecing his life together?

A

The musical created in 2019 played a crucial role in this research. To reconstruct his life for the musical, we were engaged in several meetings with Braz, his wife Yvonne Gonsalves, grandson Jarryd Rodrigues, daughter Sharon and son-in-law Darryl. We also had discussions with Louis Banks, Ramamani and even conversations over the phone with Ramesh Shottam in Germany.

Naresh Fernandes generously contributed his time and resources to this documentary over the last five years, always available for whatever we need. While the script is not finalized yet, we hope to have it locked by the end of the year.

Q

What were the challenges involved in making this film?

A

The most significant challenge we faced was recovering events that were not documented in writing or recording, that existed only in memory. For instance, Braz provided a detailed account of his participation in the Cascais Jazz Festival in 1978. Fortunately, with the support of RTP (Portuguese television), we gained access to footage of his concert at the time.

The Hot Club in Lisbon, a prominent jazz venue, played a crucial role in filling in the minute details of this event. We obtained correspondence between Luis Villas-Boas (who invited Braz after seeing him perform at the Macau Jazz festival), photographs, newspaper articles, and even the telegram detailing his arrival in Lisbon.

However, there are other events, like the extensive European tour of Sangam with over 50 concerts, for which we couldn’t find any archival records.

Q

How did you go about with the shoot?

A

We have been filming it step-by-step to reach where we are today. It included interviews in Goa, Portugal and Mumbai; rehearsals, get-togethers, and other events like the three concerts Braz Gonsalves, Yvonne Gonsalves and Jarryd Rodrigues had in 2022 in Portugal, performing alongside three Portuguese jazz musicians Masha Soeiro, André Pizarro, João Ventura and well-known flute musicians Rão Kyao, as well as the Goan origin, but Mozambican-born Gonzaga Coutinho, who graced us with their presence.

Q

What have you looked forward to at the Film Bazaar?

A

We are actively seeking financiers, co-producers and sales agents, but most of all, for me, as the director and the sole representative in the Bazaar, the most valuable aspect is the experience of engaging with a diverse range of filmmakers, actors, sound engineers, choreographers and other industry professionals.

This opportunity allows me to gain insights into the world of fellow artists, who I do not typically encounter in my day-to-day routine.

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