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India’s most favoured corner of budget Europe has provided locations for cinema, advertising campaigns and music videos for decades. Goa’s tree-lined roads, beaches, quaint architecture and laid-back vibe have made it the perfect escape hatch for film-makers looking for an India that is resolutely not like the rest of the country.

Farhan Akhtar’s three male protagonists get out of Mumbai and drive southwards to seek distraction from their lightweight anxieties in Dil Chahta Hai. The state is consummation destination for a busload of freshly wed men and women in Honeymoon Travels Pvt Ltd. Goa is crawling with drug dealers (Dum Maaro Dum), child-men (Chashme Baddoor) and zombies (Go Goa Gone). It is where lovers die (Ek Duuje Ke Liye, actually shot in Visakhapatnam) and a longing for a European way of being (Guzaarish) can find expression.

Few films have dealt with Goa’s complex history with any consequence. Hindi cinema contributed Pukar (1983), about the liberation of the state from Portuguese rule, but the best film on that period is from parallel cinema. Shyam Benegal’s Trikal, written by him and Shama Zaidi and beautifully shot by Ashok Mehta, examines the past, present and possible future of the state through the dipping fortunes of an aristocratic Goan Catholic family.

Told in flashback and set in the period preceding the liberation, Trikal explores members of the Souzasoares brood, led by Leela Naidu’s imperious matriarch who summons the spirit of her recently deceased husband to help her negotiate with the new world order. The hothouse breeds an illegitimate daughter, various hysterical family members, suitors and hangers-on, unwelcome ghosts from the past, and at least one revolutionary. Juggling complex ideas about colonialism, nationalism, ideological allegiances, social status and gender equality, Trikal remains one of Benegal’s most evocative works, his own tribute to Ingmar Bergman and Luchino Visconti, and one of the definitive films about Goa.

One of the best recent explorations of contemporary Goa remains largely unknown. Laxmikant Shetgaonkar’s 2009 Konkani-language debut Paltadacho Munis flew under the radar locally, but its recent release on DVD by its producer, the National Film Development Corporation, should fix the problem. Featuring mostly no-name actors and set in an unfashionable part of the state, Paltadacho Munis explores the encounter between isolation and inclusion through the experiences of Vinayak, a forest guard (Chittaranjan Giri) who shelters a mentally challenged woman (Veena Jamkar) and has a relationship with her.

Tasked with protecting the forest from encroachers, Vinayak finds that intrusion can take other forms—the village from where he gets his supplies, and to which he is connected through a rope bridge, wants to a build a temple whose road will run through his backyard. Conventional morality, conservative ideas of religious practice, and a transactional relationship with ecology ruin the delicate balance that governs Vinayak’s life.

Beautifully paced and performed, and with a striking closing shot, Paltadacho Munis takes its place as one of the best films to be made about Goa, a state that has always been more than the sum of its beach-bound, feni-swilling and siesta-loving stereotypes.

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