24 Apr 2017 | 12:20am IST
A voice that is eternal
Antonette Mendes’ renditions of ‘Tum Nasloi Punn Tuka Sweater Kori’ and ‘Claudia’ in Konkani films ‘Amchem Noxib’ and ‘Nirmonn’ respectively are all-time hits that are still very popular. Her popular songs ‘Pipirmitt’ with Robin Vaz and Joe Rose’s ‘Bebdem’, ‘Pixem’ and ‘Kapurlem’ can also be heard regularly on AIR/FM
Maria Antonia D’Souza, popularly known as Antonette Mendes on the tiatr stage, was born at Princess Street, Chira Bazaar, Mumbai on May 10, 1944 to late A K D’Souza, a sailor, theatre actor, director and writer, and Innocencia D’Souza, a homemaker.
As the first child, Antonette enjoyed singing songs and would actively participate in co-curricular activities in school. Her fatherwas a dramatist and was closely associated with Minguel Rod and Kid Young Rod.
As a singer, Antonette began her career at the tender age of 15 when she joined hands with her father in his tiatr ‘Aum To Tarvotti’ at the famous Princess Street Theatre, Bhangwadi. Consequently, she acted in tiatr ‘Fuddar’ directed by tiatrist late Kid Boxer, which was staged in Mumbai and Goa.
“This was the turning point in my career, which fetched me the opportunity to sail to East Africa, where I performed in three tiatrs, namely Kid Boxer’s ‘Bancruttam Bancrutt’ besides ‘Fuddar’ and Alfred Rose’s ‘Dotor Advogad’.
A little later, she debuted as director for her father’s tiatr ‘Dilolo Jurament’ and then went on to write and direct her own tiatrs ‘Obgath’, ‘Tum Saiba Konn’ and ‘Don Ghoram’. She has acted in several tiatrs of noted directors like Remmie Colaco, Joe Rose, Jacint Vaz, Bab Peter, Rosario Rodrigues, Mendes Brothers, Anil Kumar, Tita Preto, Prem Kumar, J P Souzalin, H Briton, Paul Romy and others, which won her accolades and recognition.
She gained an opportunity to perform in Chris Perry’s first musical show in 1978 in Bahrain and Rico Rod’s tiatr ‘Bailek Lagon’ in Kuwait. She also toured with different tiatr troupes to East Africa, Canada, Germany, London, Dubai, Muscat and Doha (Qatar).
Among all the tiatr directors, Antonette’s longest stint has been with M Boyer, beginning with the tiatr ‘Besanv’. “He was a strict director, but never rude. He always expected perfection in singing and acting,” she reminisces.
Blessed with three daughters–Judy, June and Lara, the eldest went on to marry Jose Rod.Among all the performances, Antonette rates her role in ‘Mauli’, a non-stop tiatr written and directed by her son-in-law, as her most unforgettable performance. Some of her blockbusters of yesteryears include ‘Sounsar Sudhorlo’, ‘Adim Tem, Atam Hem’, ‘Mog Kazar Divorce’, ‘Angvonn’, ‘Darunn Voddil’ and ‘Gharachem Sukh’.
Antonette’s professionalism on stage led her to act in three of the best Konkani films produced till date which include ‘Amchem Noxib’ directed by A Salam. In this film, her role opposite the noted comedian late Antony Mendes is remembered till date, especially for her prancing around while singing ‘Tum Nasloi Punn Tuka Sweater Kori’.
In another film, ‘Nirmonn’, directed by A Salam, Antonette’s melodious rendition of ‘Claudia’ became an all-time hit. “This movie still has a very warm and important place in my life as it was in this film that I met my life-partner, late Romeo Mendes, who acted as my brother,” she recalls.
Antonette’s third film was ‘Sukhachem Sopon’, which was written and directed by late Al Jerry Braganza. She also acted in Bonifacio’s film ‘Zababdari’, besides featuring in a comedy role in Jagdish Narulia’s Hindi film ‘Mohabbat Zindagi Hai’. She played a major role in Cyrus Mistry’s English play ‘The Legacy of Rage’.
Before marrying Romeo in 1966, Antonette acted in one of his tiatrs at Gwalior Tank, Mumbai at Tejpal Hall. “He was a contractor and producer and he was the first to bring Prince Jacob to Mumbai,” she mentions.
Antonette’s venture into the music world has also been noteworthy as no other female singer had such an impact on the Konkani music field until Lorna. Prior to that, she was the undisputed ‘queen’ of the Konkani stage.
Alfred Rose also gave her a break in music through LPs for HMV with solos like ‘Nursichem Fugasaum’ and ‘Cheddum Xetcamteachem’. Her duets with Alfred Rose like ‘Kazari Bhoinnik Lagon’, ‘Fottoilem Deva’ and ‘Ago Mojea Sundorea’ are some of her memorable songs.
Antonette’s masterpiece with legendary Chris Perry, ‘Piti Piti Mog’,stole the hearts of everyone who heard it. She has sung more than 5,000 songs in over 500 audio cassettes/CDs/LPs (HMV) of various artistes including many CDs of her son-in-law Jose Rod and Anil-Fatima.
In the ‘80s, Antonette and her husband late Romeo brought out a series of their own audio cassettes with their first hit ‘Jivit Ek Sopon’ launched by Bollywood actor Amitabh Bachchan, in which he gave an introductory speech in Konkani. It was followed by ‘Rosacho Dis’, ‘Padr Agnel’ and several others. As a couple, they both released 15 audio albums.
Antonette has been felicitated and conferred with numerous awards for her immense contribution to the Konkani stage and screen. Some of the awards include Tiatr Academy Goa’s Lifetime Achievement to Tiatr Award 2009, Kala Academy’s Award 2011 and Goa State Cultural Award 2015. She was also felicitated by 125th Anniversary of Tiatr Celebration Committee jointly with TAG and Maharastra Konkani Kala Saunsthan in Mumbai.
With regard to acting and singing, Antonette says, “You need to portray your character by dressing up accordingly and emoting as demanded and only then you will win audience appreciation.”
“When rendering a song,” she says, “let it be cherished in the future. Criticism will not last long, but good songs will. Voice modulation is important, besides the appropriate costume.”
Antonette considers herself fortunate that she has achieved so much in her career on stage, against all odds. “I will continue to be a part of the Konkani stage and retire on the day I breathe my last,” she promises.