COSMOS: Behind the Scenes in Goa, India
Following different collaborations with Le Guess Who?, including for LGW Embassy: Goa, India which debuted last November, COSMOS talks to Rana Ghose (REProduce) about risk-taking as a focus area; instinct as a curatorial aspect and how Goa differs from the rest of India. As one artist chimes in: "Everyone is allowed to be free here".
For Rana Ghose, risk-taking is a full-time occupation. But it’s not just a job, says the curator, economist, writer, and filmmaker at the helm of LGW Embassy: Goa, India, produced in partnership with his agency REProduce. The 26-minute COSMOS collaboration, he argues, was born from a deeply personal place. And an uncomfortable one at that, too; ‘I didn’t like doing it’, he confesses, as we discuss a world apart. From his phone screen, Rana is speaking to us from Goa, India’s smallest state - and his work’s muse. But, as we come to find out, it is through discomfort that he thrives.
‘My area of focus was always risk’, he says. Much before becoming, among other things, the curator he is today, Rana conducted his doctoral research on risk construction in a regulatory context and the underlying dynamics of how we explore uncertainty with regard to new technology. Nowadays, he steers REProduce, an agency that provides artists in India with the platforms, arenas, and avenues necessary to take similar risks. When, a decade ago, he decided to apply his knowledge to a real-life setting, he discovered what made him tick; to help those who make art - whichever that may be - tell their stories in an authentic and free manner. ‘In doing so, I seem to have achieved what I had hoped’, he observes, ‘which is to inspire others to do the same’.
Rana took the same approach for his COSMOS film, in which he casts light on those taking chances with their music. In it, we are made acquainted with seven idiosyncratic Goa creatives; Haved Jabib, Bengal Chemicals, Bowls, Roddur Roy, Fursat, TITO+, and, of course, Rana Ghose. When asked what led him to go with these names, Rana cites ‘instinct’. ‘I think the unifying clause is likely some combination of, first, they would probably lose their minds if the work didn’t go out, second, I don’t understand what it is I am hearing or seeing (but I want to), or, third, their vision is so clear and their unwillingness to compromise so pronounced that to execute their work just strikes me as impressive, and serves to inspire and influence my own’, he says. Flashes of each artist’s music sprinkled across LGW Embassy: Goa, India illustrate their defiant creativity. It’s made clear through Haved Jabib’s harsh field recordings, Bengal Chemicals’ morose instrumentals, Bowls’ gentle singing, Fursat’s eerie trumpet, and TITO+’s glacial tones.
It is with Rana we begin, as we watch him waddle through a pool, unceremoniously tapping into a microphone to start ‘I actually came here looking for a place for my mother, honestly. I suppose there are a few other reasons, but… It’s mostly that’. He cocks his head back, watering his hair. He floats on. ‘My mother’s really sick’, he abruptly says. ‘My father… Died. I was home. I didn’t enjoy it’ - suddenly, unannounced loud party music blasts from the speakers, as the title card springs on the screen.
Rana did not enjoy exposing himself to this degree for his Le Guess Who? collaboration. But, he says, that is why he did it. Doing so allowed him to create space for truth in his subjects’ replies, he argues. The interviews Rana carries out with the artists featured throughout this local collection of audiovisual stories are atypical, in content and form. He talks with them in dimly lit rooms and in open fields; he carries on conversating as pixelated-faced women roll around the walls; he leaves and comes back; masked figures take his place. All the while he chips away at the artists’ truest feelings on creation, loneliness, and, of course, Goa. These conversations possess the Lynchian quality of a misremembered dream, one in which the interviewees let themselves be truly unguarded. Rana wanted to disarm his guests, putting them in situations in which they ‘weren’t exactly sure what was going on, what was intended, what was real, and what wasn’t’. Jovially, he adds: ‘I think it worked’.
Goa was a natural choice of subject for Rana, who has lived in the southwestern state for ‘two or three years’, and has since watched a swarm of like-minded individuals join him. Many, he explains, flocked to the state during the lockdown, as restrictions were lighter than in the rest of the country. But there is more to their migration, says Rana - and the artists featured for COSMOS agree.
For Roddur Roy, this freedom takes on a larger stake. He is an eccentric, oftentimes controversial vlogger, as well as a novelist, poet, movie maker, spiritual guru, and artist. Being in the ‘borderlines’ of his own country, he tells Rana (and us), has allowed him to be his authentic, disorderly self; Roy was arrested last summer for reportedly making derogatory remarks on chief minister of West Bengal Mamata Banerjee. Bowls shares the sentiment; ‘I just want to live here’, he says. ‘I can’t live anywhere else’. ‘This is the perfect place to run away’, finishes Fursat. He too is trying to stay in Goa for a long time.
‘A lot of people are feeling somewhat insecure about what the future of India may be’, he continues. He is, like many, watching closely as the country skews further right since Narendra Modi’s rise to power in 2014. Goa, says Rana, is also wealthier (it is actually India's richest state with the highest GDP per capita) and safer than New Delhi or Mumbai, and, unlike the latter, the tentacles of the all-consuming film industry have not yet held captive all working in the cultural sector. Lastly, Rana says, there is a colonial history, that, for better or for worse, distinguishes Goa from other Indian states; whereas much of India was colonized by the British, Goa was a Portuguese colony up until the sixties. With that came a social and cultural legacy that, to this day, sets Goa apart. There is, simply put, room to roam - which Rana finds imperative.
The ghost of diaspora hovers around LGW Embassy: Goa, India’s conclusion, in which Rana muses on what it must have been like for his mother to leave all those years ago. ‘I think she deserves another try’, he thinks out loud in the film. Rana’s family’s immigration story is unique; in India, his father was an acrobat in a circus in Kolkata, while also working in a machine shop. In his early twenties, he left for Germany with a friend, and, by chance, to Canada afterward. He intentionally raised Rana outside of the diaspora, in a remote part of northern Canada, bordering on the Arctic. He wished for his children to assimilate. ‘I think he wanted us to have a different take on the world around us’, reasons Rana. That upbringing, he thinks, has given him a different perspective on the world, and, especially, India. ‘Not having the most obvious reflection of where my parents came from around me has allowed me a somewhat removed perspective’, he explains.
Removed, but not detached. Rana continues determined to build artistic communities and to give those hell-bent on making art a place where they can create freely. In India, a country in which Rana says picking this line of work is still risky, this community work is much-needed. All in all, he aspires to tell stories - his, and others’. It may be difficult, but, for Rana, this is where the true magic lies.
This article is part of the COSMOS series ‘Behind the Scenes’, in which people from across the world discuss their local cultural scenes and their creative processes while creating films for the latest COSMOS installment. You can find more info about the series here.
Are you interested in collaborating with COSMOS to share your local cultural scene? Please let us know via firstname.lastname@example.org.