Great Goans: Anthony Mendes (1920 – 1964)

The comic genius of tiatrist Anthony Mendes

anthony mendesOnce upon a time (was it all really so long ago?), on Sunday mornings after every Mass got over, people streaming out of churches across Mumbai would be greeted by young men standing at the church gates distributing blue, green, and pink coloured handbills with advertisements of soon-to-be-staged tiatrs. The venues of these plays would be either the open-air theatre at Victoria Gardens at Byculla, Princess Theatre at Bhangwadi (if you’re wondering about the name, the locality once had opium shops lining the entrance), St. Mary’s High School at Mazagon, or the Rang Bhavan open-air theatre near St. Xavier’s College. Goans would grab these handbills and start scanning them eagerly on the way home. If the face of Anthony Mendes figured among the pictures of the tiatrists starring in the play they were sure the tiatr would be a sell-out and make a beeline for ‘Jack-of-all Stall’ at Byculla or other centres at Dhobitalao to book their tickets as early as possible to avoid disappointment.

Anthony Mendes embodied the best of comedy on the Konkani stage. He was a gifted comedian who could make audiences laugh uncontrollably without uttering a single word. Just a wriggle of his stick-on toothbrush moustache the moment he emerged from the side wings was enough to bring the house down. I remember how he would yank his pants to his armpits and disappear into them to the delight of the crowd who revelled in his zany antics. He was the quintessential perfect comedian: superb timing, an endearing stage presence, and yes, loads of talent. Those who have grown up in the post-Anthony Mendes era have only to see the Konkani film Amchem Noxib for glimpses of his comedic genius.

konkani film amchem noxibHad he been alive today, Anthony Mendes would have been celebrating his 92nd birthday in a few days from now. Born in Margao on 28 December, 1920, he made his professional debut on the Konkani stage at the tender age of 16 after passing out of St. Theresa’s High School in Girgaum, one of the Goan pockets in the city of Bombay.  In 1936, after watching him perform in a local stage show, Joao Agostinho Fernandes (acknowledged today as the Father of the Konkani stage) decided to offer the young Anthony Mendes a small role in his one-act play Khapri Chakor (African Servant).  Joao Agostinho was so impressed by the talent of his new protégé, he gave him roles to play in many of his other tiatrs as well, till finally he picked him for one of the lead roles in his play Vauraddi. From then on there was no stopping Anthony Mendes. The upcoming young tiatrist was a hit, his popularity began to grow, directors began to pursue him for their plays, and the rest is history.

A multi-talented tiatrist

Like another great tiatrist – C. Alvares, Anthony Mendes was a multi-talented performer. His versatility extended to acting, singing, songwriting and even playwriting.  He penned scores of songs and 15 full-length tiatrs, one of his major hits being “Road to Mapusa”. His remarkable inventiveness whether it was character portrayal, writing the lyrics for his songs, or entertaining the audience, made him a hit with tiatr enthusiasts.  

A big reason for the popularity of Anthony Mendes’s songs was that the lyrics were so side-splittingly funny. Consider these lines from “Taxi Driver” one of his hit solos or ‘clowns’ as they used to be called in the tiatr programs:

Taxi choloitanam fattlean kitem tum poitoloi,

Gopan eka mekak dhorun aloi-doloi,

Tea amchea fuddlea arxean cinema kitem poitoloi,

(Watching lovers in the backseat through the rear mirror is like watching a movie!)

And then feeling guilty for being a peeping Tom, he ends with the lines:

Saiba maka kurpa di, steering mojem ghott dhorunc,

Haum poitam mhunn tancam gomoi!

(Dear Lord, help me hold on tight to the steering wheel… please let them know I can see what they’re doing!”

Or take these witty lines from Burgo Mog (Immature Love):

Ho tuzo guneau, mozo guneau, kestao pettota,

Bejeam suater, vontt poleancher, thapttam suzota…

(They start quarelling – It’s your fault; No, it’s yours;

And soon lips and cheeks are swollen not from passionate kissing, but from stinging slaps!)

Another brilliant composition is the song Dadlo, an ode to the macho male and his remarkable “strength”. Anthony Mendes begins with the line “Dadlea, dadlea, dadlea, dadlea, kitlo ghott tum vortotai“(O man how great is your strength), continues with creatively conceived plaudits like “Dantanim battleancheo guddeo kaddtai” (You can remove the crown caps of soft drink bottles with your bare teeth), but ends sardonically with “Punn bailanc poitoch pochok zatai” – (But the mere sight of ladies makes you go weak in the knees).

When this wonderful actor died in 1964, just one year after the immensely popular Amchem Noxib was released, he was only 43. His sudden demise due to blood cancer shattered not only his young wife and three school-going sons, it came as a cruel shock to tiatr lovers as well. I was just a kid in school at that time, but I clearly remember the silver-throated Alfred Rose’s heart-breaking rendition of a song dedicated to Anthony Mendes just a few days after the demise of the master comedian. The jam-packed auditorium listened in complete silence, many with tears in their eyes, till he concluded his moving tribute with the lines:

Mendes amche modem jieunk, tevuim zalear amchem noxib,

Mendes bhurghech ponnin moronk, tenvuim amchem noxib.

Anthony Mendes had only a brief love affair with the Konkani stage, but till today, 48 years after he passed away, the bond Goans and lovers of tiatr share with him still endures, and it will continue to endure well into the future.

I conclude my own small tribute to this giant among tiatrists with a clip of his evergreen hit duet with Antonette – Bencdaita Pai – from Amchem Noxib.

What a song! What a delectable mix of comedy and romance…

Viva Goa!

And Merry Christmas!

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18 Responses to Great Goans: Anthony Mendes (1920 – 1964)

  1. keith harvey maximus viegas says:

    Hi! Many thanks for this post Veena. Saw this movie Amchem Npxib as a kid. Anthony was a family friend, and a great actor, and that was a great movie. Sad that only two Konkani movies are worth remembering and mentioning, the other being Nirmon. They don’t make movies like Amchem Noxib anymore, and neither do we see actors like Anthony Mendes anymore.
    Regards,
    Keith

    • veena says:

      Thanks for the appreciation Keith. Anthony Mendes was a personal favourite and I agree with every word you’ve written.

      • brenda lopes says:

        Was happy to read your tribute to Anthony Mendes. I knew his daughter well and am hoping to get in touch with her.

  2. Randall Mendes says:

    Dear Veena,
    I do not know you, but I see that you do know about my grandfather quite a bit and am assuming that you were his fan. I too am his greatest fan and till date, I push my dad and his brothers (Mendes Brothers) to pay tribute to their father before it’s too late… God willing we may get to see something like that during our lifetime, as according to me the quality of tiatrists has diminished from the good old yesteryears.

    • veena says:

      Randall, I feel so happy that the grandson of a tiatrist my late parents, and my siblings and I loved, and had the good fortune of watching perform on stage (and inevitably bring the house down each time) has appreciated my little homage to him. I agree with you that we and future generations of Goans may never see the likes of Anthony Mendes again. I do hope your dad and uncles will accede to your plea and organize a public stage show/tiatr in memory of your illustrious grandfather. (I would be glad to provide help with the scripting.) In the US, I have enjoyed similar tributes to Patsy Cline and ABBA, and in India we have tributes to Mohammed Rafi and others arranged by their family. In fact, the Konkani stage could do with tributes to other greats like C. Alvares, Alfred Rose, M. Boyer and others and I’m sure these stage shows will receive the full support of tiatr lovers.

  3. antonio da gama says:

    Thanks for the inputs Veena. What about his children?

    • Veena Patwardhan says:

      Thank you Antonio. It was a pleasure to pay a tribute to one of our greatest tiatrists. Anthony Mendes had five children – Felix, Xavier, Derrick, Theresa and Emilia. His three sons performed in tiatrs as a trio under the name of Mendes Brothers and were quite a hit with tiatr audiences. They migrated to Kuwait for better prospects but continued to be actively involved in Konkani stage shows there as well. Xavier who recently moved back to Goa for health reasons is now in a wheelchair. Last year he was felicitated along with some other senior tiatrists including Rita Rose with the ‘Lifetime Contribution to Tiatr’ Award.

  4. Orian says:

    Hey, really nice post. My dad was just talking to me about Anthony Mendes as he had just received a video of his song ‘Zalem te zao’ from the movie Amchem Noxib. It’s true what you say that people of my generation may never get to witness the likes of such a great tiatrist but Anthony Mendes lives in the heart of every Goan who has witnessed him in action. Just listening to my dad got me interested and I thought I would google his name to find out more and found your post. But recently a movie was made called NACHOM-IA KUMPASAR which was a Konkani movie based on the life of Lorna and it was also a tribute to all our Goan singers and tiatrists. It was a really nice movie, many people went to watch it. One of my neighbours liked it so much that he went to the theatre and watched it a total of 3 times!!! I love tiatrs and am sad that I might never get to witness such a great tiatrist.

    • Veena Patwardhan says:

      Thank you for the appreciative comments, Orian. There will never be another Anthony Mendes. But who knows, the newer generation of Goans like you might produce fresh talent worth appreciating too. And yes, it’s great when a well-made Konkani film like Nachom-ia Kumpasar is released that keeps the memory of past Goan tiatrists and musicians alive.

  5. Joe coelho says:

    Where are Anthony Mendes’s children? They were my good neighbours. Once they left the old house and after that there was no news of them. Just read about Xavier, where can I meet him? And what about the others, their mother? Thanks.

    • Veena Patwardhan says:

      Sorry Joe, I don’t know the family personally. Hence I cannot provide the information you seek. However, since Anthony Mendes’s grandson Randall has also left a comment here, I could share his email address with you if you write to me. I’m sure he would be able to help you out. (My contact details are available on my website.)

  6. Bob Gomes says:

    I’m the first cousin of Felix, Xavier, Derrick and Theresa. My mother and Felix’s mother were sisters.

    • Derrick Mendes says:

      Hi! This is Derrick. Felix, Theresa, Amelia and I are at present in Kuwait with our children, their spouses, and our grand children. Xavier with his family is in Goa. He is bedridden. Please keep him in prayers. Mummy expired in 1975.

      • Veena Patwardhan says:

        So sorry to hear your brother Xavier is bedridden, Derrick. I’m sure your Dad’s thousands of fans will pray for him, and your relatives, including Bob Gomes, will be happy to receive this update from you. God bless you all, the family of one of our most loved tiatrists and surely a great Goan!

  7. Santana Pereira says:

    A great comic who can never be replaced. I was 15 when he died and was his great fan. I cried hearing abut his death. A legend of the Konkani stage.

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