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Frank Fernand – The Wizard of Konkani Films

Frank Fernand – The Wizard of Konkani Films

Frank Fernand, a legendary musician and the man who launched the first Konkani film ‘Amchem Noxib’ (Our Luck) under the banner of Frank Films (Goa). Cafe gives an elaborate recounting of the life and career of the brilliant Frank.
Goans have a passion for music and have excelled in music around the world. The credit for this goes to the churches and temples that, in the yesteryears, were nurseries for development of the trait of song and music with a ‘catch them young’ attitude. This training benefited many, even directing them towards Hindi film music. Their sincere dedication continues to leave an indelible mark in this field as we see many Goan musicians making it big in Hindi films. Frank Fernand was one such musician.

Frank Fernandes, popularly known as Frank Fernand, was born on May 3, 1919, after the demise of his father, at Curchorem – a railway station and mining centre in South Goa; he was baptised by the saintly priest, Fr Agnelo de Souza. He received his initial training in music at the hands of local maestro Diogo Rodrigues, where he could master violin and trumpet. Thereafter, his presence was seen in the village bands, where he played for feasts, weddings and funerals. According to him, music should be played as per one’s feelings; music is a language by which one expresses his feelings. The technique is secondary but passion is primary.

At the tender age of sixteen, he migrated to erstwhile Bombay for studies at Don Bosco, where the priests discovered his calibre. Later on, he worked for Bata Shoe Co. where his first pay was 12 annas. After work, he used to practice and play for Hotel Majestic at Colaba. In 1940, he joined the Jazz Listening Club. He took part in the live concert for Bombay Swing Club in 1948, which earned him lot of fame. His first assignment in music was to play at Green’s Hotel and Taj Mahal Hotel under the leadership of George Theodore – an East Indian. Most of the Goans played for hotels patronised by the elite Parsi and Khoja community, who fancied American commercial music.

In 1942, he left Mumbai for Mussorie to play at Savoy Hotel under Rudy Cotton band. It was there that he got a good opportunity to be a Jazz musician. The same year, he had a brief stint in New Delhi. In 1946, he set for Bombay to participate in Mickey Correia’s band. Frank could play cornet, cello, string bass and drums with ease. With the imposition of prohibition in Bombay, the hotels lost their clients and the musicians had to look for alternate employment. In 1927, many studios sprung up in erstwhile Bombay as the Indian cinema was passing through a golden era. The Hindi music directors did not have formal training in music and Goans filled that void as music arrangers, which required 25 to 30 musicians for orchestra, playing Western and Hindi music. Cine Musicians Association lent a helping hand.
Frank’s first pay-packet in the film industry was Rs 250 and that too only for playing the violin. He contributed 35 years of his service to Bollywood, wherein he handled 70 Bollywood films as music conductor, assistant music director and arranger, though he did not receive due credit in most cases.
The year 1948 saw him joining the film industry as a musician to the popular music duo Shankar-Jaikishan. He was proud to be associated with the success of R K Films’ Raj Kapoor’s super hit ‘Barsat’. He also worked under music directors of repute viz. Kishore Kumar, C R Ramchandra, Roshan, Ravi, Anil Biswas, etc. His last assignment with Kalyanji-Anandji as his first assistant is fondly remembered by the Hindi film music community. He excelled in musical arrangements for these music directors.
In the 1950s, he along with director A Salaam and music director Ravi planned to produce a Hindi movie. But it had a wrong start up. Famed Guru Dutt was not ready to star with Meena Kumari and the project had to be stalled. Frank was a true patriot. In the footsteps of the liberation of Goa, for the immense love he had for Konkani and with the vast knowledge of film craft in his possession, he launched his first Konkani film ‘Amchem Noxib’ (Our Luck) under the banner of Frank Films (Goa), starring C Alvares and Anthony Mendes in the main roles at a cost of Rs 1,25,000. Apart from being its producer, the film had melodious music composed by him. This film cast a magic spell on the spectators and its immense popularity brought him adulation. He expressed his gratitude for the patronage received for his first film, which enabled him to boost his enthusiasm. However, he regretted that Portuguese and English speaking Goans did not appreciate the film and called it cheap.
To counteract this criticism, he produced his second film, ‘Nirmonn’ (Destiny) based on Lord Tennyson’s character Enoch Arden for which he set music in his own style at a cost of Rs 1,80,000. This film had a powerful story and bagged the Certificate of Merit for regional films – the first of its kind for Konkani at the hands of the then Prime Minister late Indira Gandhi. S S Vasan of Gemini Films praised his efforts. This film had memorable performances by C Alvares, Shalini, Anthony D’Sa and Jacinto Vaz. The lyrics and scenes of both films have been beautifully captured on mementos of these films, entitled ‘Sargam’. ‘Nirmonn’ was remade into Hindi as ‘Taqdeer’, directed by A Salam with Shalini in the lead role. Besides these two films, Frank also provided the musical score for Konkani film ‘Mhoji Ghorkarn’ (My Wife) directed by A Salam, starring Shalini, C Alvares and Jacinto Vaz. He also composed music for Hindi films
‘Chor Darwaza’ and ‘Gogola’. As a classical Jazz player he performed the Trumpet Concerto by Handel under music maestro Victor Paranjoti. In 1958, he organised a concert wherein he played the Evolution of Music, Jazz, starting with Negro Spirituals, Dixie Land Jazz, followed by New Orleans Jazz, Sound of America commercial music, Symphony Jazz and Ravi Shankar’s Caravan.
With the success of the two Konkani films, Frank ventured to produce a Hindi film in 1965 entitled ‘Priya’, starring Sanjeev Kumar and Tanuja with music by Kalayanji-Anandji. This film flopped because it was considered an art film by the audience and not a commercial one; he suffered a loss of Rs 1,50,000. Not loosing heart, in 1974, Frank again attempted to produce another Hindi film ‘Aahat- Ek Ajeeb Kahani’, starring Dr Shriram Lagoo, Jaya Bahaduri and Vinod Mehra. The film, inspired by the popular English film ‘Wait Until Dark’ was made under the banner of Vishal Gomantak Films with screenplay by G D Madgulkar and Kishore Rege as director. The film was over-budgeted at Rs 18,00,000 and could not be released as the distributor was arrested under COFEPOSA. The film was later released in February 2010. Frank set music to lyrics of works by popular Konkani poet Dr Manohar Sardesai for HMV RecordingCo. for which he bagged the Bombay Journal Award.
Cine Musicians honoured him as founder and he was bestowed the Goan Review Award. In the eighties, he staged tiatr ‘Bekar Patranv’ which, for the first time, had a ten-piece orchestra. Unfortunately, this great artiste was struck with Parkinson’s disease since 1985.
Frank’s magical touch is seen in the song ‘Mere Desh Ki Dharti’ in ‘Upkar’ and ‘Mera Jeevan Kora Kagaz’ in ‘Kora Kagaz’.
Frank breathed his last on April 1, 2007 in Mumbai and was cremated at Dadar as per his wishes. His legacy lives on.
(Isidore Dantas is a freelance journalist and author from Pune who writes frequently on Goan cultural topics)

This article was first published on Herald cafe on 1st May 2018

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