Floating high

Francisco Martins is the uncrowned king of pageantry
Francisco Martins is the uncrowned king of pageantry

Francisco Martins, or "Fanquit," as he is known to most folks, can easily be called Mr Culture after donning the earlier titles of Mr Carnival and Mr R-Day Floats, having distinguished himself in these realms over the years. In three decades since he won the first prize for the best Carnival float in 1974 he is virtually the uncrowned king of pageantry.

Fanquit may not be doing the Goa float on Republic Day in the last few years and for political reasons but he did get a chance to display his proven skills at the opening of the International Film Festival of India, 2004, with four floats and 200 dances. The show was on from 3.30 to 5.30 pm The main float was the Peacock logo of IFFI, the second was of the fruits of Goa, the third of Fontainhas or the Latin quarter in Panjim and the last one was of the Goa Carnival which he knows like the back of his hand. These were accompanied by music from the Cascades and other bands and dances by the renowned Jason and Sylvie and the Amelia dance group.

Talk to Fanquit and he’s a virtual encyclopedia of events ranging from the opening of the Asian Games or Asiad in 1982 to various national games and the Nehru birth centenary in 1989. He may take time to warm up but once on familiar ground he’s in full flow like when he describes how suddenly he was thrust with the closing ceremony of the National Games in Pune. Zuck korun idea aili(suddenly an idea struck me). He would make Raju (the elephant mascot) return to the jungle with a host of medals round his neck." That’s how involved Fanquit gets in his work.

Rajiv Gandhi is believed to have had implicit faith in Francisco Martins and when Fanquit speaks of the Nehru birth centenary or B`aratiyam his eyes light up. He took 1300 school girls from Goa and there were 35,000 from other parts of India in a show put up by the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) where Martins was orchestrating the show.

Fanquit is also lucid about his forays into New Delhi for the R-Day parades. He won the first prize four times (1981, 88, 91 and 2000) and the second prize thrice (1989, 90 and 95). The sweeper who was with him in the earlier years was still with him in 2000 and now his son is in tow. He also narrates the metamorphosis of his troupe from jumping into trains to flying in planes. But for all his success, he still has his feet set firmly on the ground.
Martins speaks fondly of his team of Babush Coutinho (architect), Mauricio Fernandes (since 1981), Uttam Kudaskar, Suresh and Digambar Kunkulekar and Prof Dominic Cordo (artist).

His wife is a co-ordinator and until recently his brother Obrie was always around to help. But now he has moved to London. Visit his house in San Pedro and you’ll always find it a hub of activity, girls working on the sets of his next show, stitching flowers on the canvas or giving the final touches to his many-splendoured images and figures. That he is a conjurer with his hands is now a byword in art circles.

In the 2003 National Games in Hyderabad Fanquit did four floats, those of Karnataka, Maharashtra, Kerala and Goa with four different dances. The different five-star hotels in Goa are in constant demand for his work as are other folks, wanting him to do the décor for their weddings. He was doing the star for the Inox multiplex during IFFI. Just before the IFFI opening floats, he went to London for the World Tourism meet. So, despite him not doing the R-Day float for Goa, he has his hands full.

Fanquit has his facts on his finger-tips, the events, the years, the incidents connected with it and the personalities involved. But there is a special nostalgia associated with his first Carnival float win in 1974. His group had done the play Jesus Christ Superstar and just 24 hours before the contest they decided to put up the pageant. "We did a ‘Slavery in Rome’ pageant with men in chains and beer sacks spread out (then there were no beer cartons). It was very rustic with sacks strewn around and we played Osibisa music," he recalls fondly. Three decades have taken their toll on his face and waistline but not on his creative genius as the 57-year-old war horse rides on.

A couple of years ago he did the sound-and-light programme near the Bom Jesus, Pilgrimage of the Heart. It is still on as it related the story of the Life of Christ, the apostles, St Francis Xavier or "Genchosahib." There are 80 life-size statues with Fanquit orchestrating them like a puppeteer.

During the Exposition, it was a great draw but it is one of many things Fanquit has been associated with. But like all good artistes he never looks back his mind is always planning for the future, something bigger and grander.