Tiatr – The unique theatre from Goa

Tiatr the popular form of Konkani theatre is truly unique given its distinct form. It is quite distinct from theatre in other languages not only in India but worldwide and this is probably because of its genesis which is an amalgamation of the Goan folklore with the Western performing arts.
Prior to the emergence of tiatr entertainment in Konkani was mainly through zagors and khells. Both of them had their distinct style. While the zagor was more lyrical, the khell had dialogues and while the former was more popular in Bardez, the latter was firmly entrenched in Salcete. However, these forms got corrupted with the passage of time and became a mean of character assassination and trivialities because of which its patrons turned their back to them. Besides, being a folk art, the more educated and so called civilised generation of Goans began to distance themselves from it.
As a large number of Goans had by then settled in Mumbai, then known as Bombay, zagors and khells were performed there. But for Goans living in the cosmopolitan town, they proved to be an embarrassment given its content and mode of performance particularly since the performing arts of people from other States had evolved to a higher plateau.
It was during this era in the early 1890s that a young lad from Assagao landed in Bombay to eke out his living. Being passionate about arts and more particularly performing arts, he was highly impressed with the stylised operas performed in Bombay by an Italian troupe and thus Costancio Lucasinho Caridade Ribeiro, more popularly known as Lucasinho Ribeiro succeeded in getting himself employed with Italian Opera Company that was staging these shows. The job was truly menial of pulling and lowering the curtains during the acts and maintaining them and the pay was not much. However, it was his passion for this form of theatre and the fact that he could learn a lot that kept him going and he toured with the company to different parts of India. But when the troupe was leaving for Burma, now known as Myanmar, he quit his job.
Lucasinho Ribeiro now had a goal. Why not stage a Konkani play on the style of the Italian Opera. He translated an Italian opera written by Gonzalez Brothers and titled it “Italian Bhurgo” that needed a cast of at least eight persons enacting different roles. Thus began the hunt for the cast and the first to join him was his friend Caetaninho Fernandes from Taleigo. Although they tried to convince many of their friends and acquaintances to join them, everybody shied away because they thought that the duo were preparing either a zagor or a khell.
But then it was providence that brought Joao Agostinho Fernandes from Borda to Caetaninho and he was all agog with the idea and the two met Lucasinho and once again began in right earnest to stage the tiatr written by Lucasinho. They visited the various kudds in Bombay to recruit the case and finally succeeded in getting the required number of persons to act.
It was a historic day for Konkani culture when on the Easter Sunday of the year 1892, on 17th April to be more precise that “Italian Bhurgo” – the first Konkani tiatr was staged at new Alfred Theatre, Bombay. The large Goan crowd gathered were impressed with the show. The dialogues, the songs, the music, the stage setting and the costumes – purchased from the Italian company before they departed the Indian shores – mesmerised the crowd and the show was a huge success. Thus began a new form of entertainment and culture for the Konkani language.
However, tiatr made its presence felt in Goa two years later when for the first time a tiatr was staged at Assagao, the birth place of Lucasinho, on 1st January 1894. Meanwhile, back in Bombay various other groups sprung up to stage tiatr and it gained popularity. But all the tiatrs staged then were either translations of English classics or their adaptations.
It was nearly 10 years later that an original Konkani tiatr, based on Goan ethos, was staged for the first time. The date was 22nd November 1904 when a tiatr titled “Bhattkara” written by Joao Agostinho Fernandes, was staged at Gaeity Theatre. Incidentally, this tiatr also holds the distinction of having a female actor for the first time. Mrs. Regina Fernandes, wife of the playwright Joao Agostinho Fernandes, acted in “Bhattkara”.
While tiatr was making its presence felt, its original form – the zagors and the khells — were dying a slow death and the zagor finally stopped being performed while the khells continued. Significantly khells are still popular in Salcete during the Carnival and the ensuing lent period.
But in 1956 the khell underwent a dramatic change. Given its state at that time, Antonio Moraes though it fit to take the khell from the street performance to a stage performance. Helped by his friend and colleague Antonio Marian, the khell was performed on a stage for the first time with a backdrop and other paraphernalia associated with theatre. However, this form became very popular only in the 1970s when late Rosario Rodrigues coined the term khell tiatr and came up with extremely successful shows. During the same period late Alfred Rose staged the fist khell tiatr in Bombay.
As this form gained popularity, its nomenclature changed and they began to be called “Non-Stop Shows” which have today become the most popular form of entertainment in Konkani language. Many people have earned their living through this form of art and today they are recognised as professional artistes. Every weekend there are shows of either tiatr or khell tiatrs in Panjim, Mapusa and Margao and of late even Curchorem. Besides, every feast in the village is celebrated with a tiatr or a Non Stop Show.
So as the show continues, we at Goa Chronicle will unravel the curtain on what is happening on the Konkani stage.

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