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Goa's IFFI finds a plush home, in what was a state-run hospital

Not too long ago, patients hobbled around here, their limbs in plaster and their bodies in bandages. Pregnant mothers-to-be faced labour pains in these rooms. Sick children shed many a tear here. Now, Goa's IFFI's dreams are being born in the very same place. [Photo shows the old Goa Medical College, after a major overhaul undertaken in 2004, to host the IFFI.]

IFFI, the International Film Festival of India's 38th edition, being held in Goa for the fourth successive year, got off to a colourful start on Friday. It's venue is on a riverside promenade on the western side of Goa's state capital Panaji or Panjim, which makes for dramatic sunsets each evening.

Most IFFI delegates would not suspect that the plush venue housing the festival was Goa's prime, if then dilapidated, hospital till just a few years back.

Till a few months before Goa played host to the IFFI first in November 1994, spearheaded then by an enthusiastic BJP chief minister Manohar Parrikar, large parts of the current IFFI-multiplex complex were used as a hospital.

The "Old GMC (Goa Medical College) Complex", as it is still referred to, was built on the main road along the Mandovi river in 1927.

Former civil servant and conservation enthusiast Percival Noronha notes that the period look of this building is evident from its Roman, Neo-classical and Gothic style, semi-circular arched windows, wooden ceilings, cast iron railings, and ornamental tiles with rose motifs.

It also has long corridors, balustrades, pilasters, mouldings, ornamental grills, occluses, stained glass windows of Gothic style window panes, porches and pillars resembling the Doric Order.
Frederick [FN] Noronha * फ्रेडरिक नोरोंया [fredericknoronha@gmail.com]

Today, the building has got a costly re-do. To restore two more old buildings -- which also house the media centre -- the Goa government spent an estimated Rs 14 crore (Rs 140 million) this year itself.

Being restored just prior to this IFFI was a place now called the Maquinez Palace. This complex was built as a countryside resort, away from the then city, by the Portuguese noble family of the Count of Maquinez, on the banks of the Mandovi river.

Entertainment Society of Goa's press spokesperson Ethel da Costa, a journalist till recently, told this writer that there was a total shortage of historical information about this place.

The Maquinez Palace Complex was first built in 1776-80, and is one of the early structures to have been built in what was to become Nova Goa, the new Portuguese colonial capital after they abandoned the earlier city of Velha Goa (Old Goa), some 10 kms eastwards, due to the unhealthy living conditions there.

The Maquinez Palace was spacious and had a chapel of its own, still visible and sitting incongruously alongside the film festival that celebrates beauty, sex, glamour and politics. Built in 1720, the chapel is devoted to Our Lady of Sorrows.

The palace functioned till Pangim (as the city was then known) grew through the early 1800s. It was taken over by the Portuguese government to house the Escola Medico, one of the early medical schools in South Asia, in 1842.

Later, it came to house the Food and Drug Administration, a government office dominated by dusty files and dour government servants.

Over time, this building came to be in a state of disrepair, and was "devoid of any specific function", as the Goa government itself concedes in an official press note.

Currently, the 18th century palace has been restored with lightening, sanitary and drainage facilities, and even shivery-cold air-conditioning system.

Goa -- with its strange mix of colonial infrastructure, well-funded projects dating back to its days as a Union Territory, cash-strapped post-Statehood days, and occasional lavish spending now -- has had some strange locations for its projects.

Its fledging university was houses in an unfinished hospital in the 1980s, while till recently the State Secretariat and legislative assembly was housed in a scenic colonial building on the Mandovi river that once was the palace of the Adil Shah of Bijapur in pre-colonial times, and now awaits being redeployed for some other suitable purpose.

This year IFFI has also been taking its films to other centres, even as it attempts to minimise traffic dislocation within Panjim itself by doing away with needless street-carnivals.

Movies are being shown on the Baina beach -- where a squalid red-light district was uprooted during Goa's BJP rule -- and films are being shown in distant places like the mining-dominated town of Bicholim together with cultural programmes in some parts of the state.

More cine theatres have been roped in to screen IFFI films this year, while late-night buses have also been arranged in otherwise public traffic-scarce Goa. Goa's website for the event is at iffigoa.org

With the uncertainty over whether IFFI will continue in Goa itself -- once packaged as the festival's "permanent venue" -- and various lobbies keen to move it to some other siting they see as more convenient, the state government is also stretching to retain its claim to host the event, even if the same comes at not a small price to the state exchequer.

Frederick Noronha in Goa
fred@bytesforall.org

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