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Rare Konkani film gains Toronto festival spotlight

By Euan Rocha

TORONTO (Reuters) - The Toronto International Film Festival has catapulted several well-known Bollywood movies to global prominence in recent years, but 2009's event has showcased one Indian movie that had audiences buzzing for its use of a rare language, Konkani.

"Paltadacho Munis," or "The Man Beyond the Bridge" is the first ever film using Konkani -- a language only spoken in the tiny state of Goa in Western India and a few surrounding areas -- to be selected among the some 300 movies playing here.

Only a handful of movies have ever been shot in Konkani, mostly due to the small market. Recent estimates put the total number of Konkani speakers in India at roughly 2.5 million, a mere 0.2 percent of the country's 1.2 billion people.

Still, the film about one man's struggle to accept and love a mentally ill woman, has generated strong interest among a small group of the language's speakers who are excited by the rare opportunity of watching a Konkani film.

Director Laxmikant Shetgaonkar hopes his movie will appeal to a wider audience and that the festival's backing can give it the publicity it needs to play in theaters around the world.

Last year, Anees Bazmee's 'Singh is Kinng,' was showcased at Toronto and was one of Bollywood's biggest hits, and the festival also served as a platform for Karan Johar's romantic drama 'Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna' and Kabir Khan's first feature film 'Kabul Express,' which were both released in 2006.

"The Man Beyond the Bridge" follows the life of Vinayak a lonely forest guard, who one night comes across a filthy, unkempt and ill woman outside his house. Vinayak initially attempts to drive her away, but she keeps returning and a relationship slowly develops between the two.

But Vinayak is ridiculed and ostracized by local villagers, who cast out anyone with a mental illness and believe Vinayak's relationship with the woman is morally incorrect.

Shetgaonkar hopes the movie, set in the hinterlands of Goa, will cause audiences to question attitudes toward the mentally ill.

"The idea is to raise an issue, try to reflect different perspectives and make people think," he said.

Shetgaonkar also hopes the recognition gained by the film will encourage Indian filmmakers to produce works in other regional languages that do not have a long cinematic history.

"Konkani movies have a very small market ... But, since this movie is being screened here in Toronto, it shows that it is all about making a good film, irrespective of which language you make it in."

"The Man Beyond the Bridge" is the first feature film directed by Shetgaonkar, who has previously won critical acclaim for his documentary film "A Seaside Story," and the film was produced by the National Film Development Corp of India.

(Reporting by Euan Rocha; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte)

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