MIDWAY through Manmohan Desai’s classic 1977 film about three brothers separated at birth, a man in a top hat and a Saturday Night Fever suit leaps out of a giant Easter egg to inform the assemblage, ‘My name is Anthony Gonsalves.’
The significance of the announcement was lost under the impact of Amitabh Bachchan’s sartorial exuberance. But decades later, the memory of that moment still sends shivers down the spines of scores of ageing men scattered across Bombay and Goa. By invoking the name of his violin teacher in that tune in Amar Akbar Anthony, the composer Pyarelal had finally validated the lives of scores of Goan Catholic musicians whose working years had been illuminated by the flicker of images dancing across white screens in airless sound studios, even as acknowledgement of their talent whizzed by in the flash of small-type credit titles.
The arc of their stories – determined by the intersection of passion and pragmatism, of empire and exigency – originated in church-run schools in Portuguese Goa and darted through royal courts in Rajasthan, jazz clubs in Calcutta and army cantonments in Muree. Those lines eventually converged on Bombay’s film studios, where the Goan Catholic arrangers worked with Hindu music composers and Muslim lyricists in an era of intense creativity that would soon come to be recognised as the golden age of Hindi film song.
The Nehruvian dream could not have found a more appropriate harmonic expression.
A few months back, a friend called to tell me about a new character he’d discovered in a story published by Delhi-based Raj Comics: Anthony Gonsalves. On the page (and accessible only if you read Hindi), Anthony Gonsalves is part of the great Undead, the tribe doomed to live between the worlds. It wasn’t always like this. In his prime, Anthony Gonsalves was a mild-mannered guitar player who had devised a magical new sound known as ‘crownmusic’. But his jealous rivals tortured him to death so that they could steal his work. Now, the magnificently muscled superhero emerges from the grave each night to prevent the desperate from committing suicide and to rid the world of evil, informed of imminent misfortune by his pet crow….