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History of Tiatr

*Tomazinho Cardozo

Goa is always projected as a fusion of East and West. This is basically because of the influence of the Portuguese who ruled Goa for almost 450 years. Portuguese regime ended in Goa only in December 1961. Goa was known as 'the Rome of the East'. Portuguese rulers did try their best to give this impression to the whole world. Some of our Goans too did not remain behind to project Goa as something different from the rest of India. This happened only because of tremendous influence of 450 years of Portuguese rule on our culture.

Portuguese rule in Goa was a set back to Konkani Culture.  It was a set back to the creativity of the Goan art, set back to thinking process of Goans and it was a set back to the customs and traditions of Goan society. Our songs, our dances and our dramas suffered very badly. In other words Goan Culture was suppressed and not allowed to flourish.

With this background I would like to bring to light various aspects of Tiatr which is the most popular dramatic form of the Konkani Stage.

History in brief

It is surprising to learn that the Goan Tiatr took birth in neighboring Bombay, almost 119 years back i.e. in 1892. A young man called Lucazinho Ribeiro hailing from Sokolwaddo, Assagao in Bardez Taluka can be called the innovator of the Tiatr because he along with Joao Agostinho Fernandes and others staged the first Tiatr performance on the occasion of Easter on 17th April, 1892. The name of the first Tiatr presented was "Italian Bhurgo". This Tiatr was written and directed by Lucazinho Ribeiro hence he is the inventor of this unique dramatic form.
However it was Joao Agostinho Fernandes hailing from Margao, Salcete who wrote and directed numerous Tiatrs and gave a high standard of excellence to the Tiatr Stage. He even published his Tiatr manuscripts in book form over hundred years back. He was rightly called the 'Father of Tiatr'.

There is no documentation at all which gives a clear picture of the staging of the first Tiatr in 1892. It is only in 1943, on the occasion of Golden Jubilee of the Tiatr that Joao Agostinho Fernandes wrote a letter, which was published in the issue of 'Ave Maria' dated 28th November, 1943. In this letter, Joao Agostinho Fernandes describes how Lucazinho Ribeiro got a job in an Italian Opera Company and how he wrote the first tiatr 'Italian Bhurgo'. He also in this letter makes a mention of one Caitaninho who also assisted Mr. Rebeiro besides him to stage the First Tiatr in 1892. Mr. Fernandes also informs through this letter how jealousy crept in and how different dramatic troupes were formed, thereby creating disunity among the tiatr artistes in those years. Although  Joao Agostinho Fernandes went all out to develop the Tiatr  and brought high standard to the Tiatr Stage and whom people lovingly called Father of Tiatr shows his greatness of in the last paragraph of his letter in which he says "Undoubtedly the credit goes to Late Mr. Lucazinho Ribeiro on the Tiatr stage. I bow my head to Mr. Ribeiro, who was my guide and teacher and because of his guidance I still continue to present Tiatrs of good values to the Tiatr lovers".                         
This letter is the only source, which provides information about the innovation of the Tiatr and the staging of the first Tiatr. The information given in this letter is authentic because the letter was written by a person who was directly involved in staging the first Tiatr "Italian Bhurgo" in 1892.

Why did such a dramatic form come into existence? It was a fact that before Tiatr was born, the entertainment to the Goan masses was provided by folk dramatic forms namely Zagor & Khell. Zagor was popular in the north of Goa whereas Khell, which was also known as Fell, was popular in the south of Goa.

Infact Zagor & Khell entertained the Goan masses for a long time, Whenever Goans migrated to other parts of the country for employment they took with them these forms of entertainment. However as time passed the standard of Zagor as well as Fell deteriorated due to introduction of elements of vulgarity to create fun and cheap entertainment for the audience. This decline of quality in staging Zagor and Khell prevented many people from witnessing these forms of entertainment. Educated people stopped patronizing the Zagor as well as the Khell.

Goans were in need of good and qualitative entertainment and thus the Tiatr was born. Shri Lucazinho Ribeiro was one of the few youths in Assagao who knew to read and write English. Being unemployed, he used to give tutions to others in English. He was very much interested in cultural activities from his young age. He was a good singer too and enjoyed singing Konkani & English songs.

During the centenary year of the Tiatr in the year 1992, I visited Assagao in order to find out his roots. I met Lucazinho Ribeiro's grand daughter-in-law Lucy who showed me the house of Lucazinho Ribeiro, which was all in ruins. Only the balcony was existing without the roof over it. One had to climb 12-14 steps to enter the collapsed balcony. She informed me that her father-in-law used to tell her that Lucazinho Ribeiro used to stage small cultural programmes of Konkani songs and skits by converting the balcony of his house into a temporary stage. He used to make use of bed-sheets as curtains.

Having knowledge of English and being unemployed, he migrated to Bombay, as most of the Goans did, in search of a job.

During that time Italian troupes were touring important cities of India such as Bombay, Calcutta, Delhi and Madras to stage Italian Operas. They used to come with the required number of artistes' in order to reduce the cost of transport, accommodation, etc. When in India, they used to employ Indians mostly as back stage artistes. Lucazinho Ribeiro, having love for dramatic art, tried his luck to get employment in one of the Italian dramatic troupes. He got a job as a back stage artiste. The troupe was staging the opera called “Italian Boy”. When the troupe left India, Lucazinho Ribeiro bought the costumes used in the play with an intention to produce a similar drama in Konkani. Accordingly, based on the same story of “Italian Boy” he write a “Teatro” in Konkani and called it “Italian Bhurgo”

As there were many different scenes in this “Teatro” and as it required different stage sets, in order not to waste time, he thought of dropping the curtain and introducing songs and dances in front of the curtain. This was needed to entertain the audience while the Stage Setting was being done behind the curtain. These songs and dances did not have any relevance to the theme of the play ‘Italian Bhurgo’. This is how a new concept of dramatic form called Teatro came into existence on 17th April, 1892.

Tiatr – Not a Folk Drama

A folk drama, a folk song or folk music is generally limited to the knowledge that is transmitted from one generation to another by word of mouth or imitation. Nobody knows about their composers and writers. There are no records in writing either of the prose content or the music or song. The music is crude, the singers  are hoarse, musical instruments rustic and traditional and the musicians unrefined. In case of Tiatr there is no such evidence whatsoever to say that Tiatr belongs to the folk category. 

The first Tiatr “Italian Bhurgo” was written by Lucasinho Ribeiro and staged in Bombay on 17th April, 1892. This Tiatr was an adaptation of the Italian Opera called ‘Italian Boy’. When Mr. Ribeiro encountered difficulties for setting up the stage for different scenes in the play, as time would be wasted during the change of setting, which could bore the audience, he thought of introducing songs in front of the curtain while the stage was being set for the next scene behind the curtain. He did it and succeeded in his first attempt. And this format came to be known as ‘Tiatr’. The source of the script of the play is known and the writer who translated/adapted the Italian Opera in Konkani is also known. Secondly, the musical instruments used to provide music for the songs included a violin, a banjo, a trumpet, and a drum. There were no rustic musical instruments used nor were the songs sung on that day  were traditional in nature. The musicians were those who had studied music and learnt to read and write the score of music. There is no connection whatsoever to the folk plays “Zagor” or “Khell or Fell” in the evolution of the Tiatr. This format came into existence when there was tremendous influence of European Modern Theatre on Indian Theatre. In fact Marathi Theatre in Bombay and Bengali Theatre in Calcuta had already undergone that universal change.

After the success of the first tiatr ‘Italian Bhurgo’ Lucasinho Ribeiro translated some more world classics such as Alladin, Ali Baba and Carlos Magno and staged them as Tiatrs. Sebastiao Gabriel D’Souza popularly known as ‘Karachiwala’ translated ‘Merchant of Venice’,  ‘As You Like It’, ‘Hamlet’ and ‘Winter’s Tale’ and staged in the Tiatr format. Joao Lazarus D’Souza adapted and staged ‘Romeo and Juliet’ in the same manner. This only proves that the tiatr was born and developed under the influence of modern European Theatre. Joao Agostinho Fernandes was the first writer to write original scripts of Tiatrs on themes highlighting injustices in the Goan society e.g. caste system, dowry harassment, etc. etc. He was also a pioneer in composing lyrics and original music scores for songs. These songs can be heard even today on HMV discs.  If so where is the folk element in the tiatrs and songs presented by the pioneers of Tiatr?   In view of this it is clear that Tiatr – its prose as well as its songs and music – has no relevance to folk theatre nor folk songs nor folk music. On the contrary, it had a tremendous influence of the contemporary European  theatre and music of that time. Hence tiatr is a product of modern theatre – a fusion of modern prose and modern song and music of that time.

Tiatr – A Unique Form of Drama

Tiatr is a unique form of dramatic art. It is unique because it cannot be considered a musical drama or a prose drama. It has music and singing but it is not a musical drama.

The plot of a Tiatr is normally divided into 6 or 7 parts, each part is called a "Pordho". In between these Pordhes there are songs which are called "Kantaram". Normally there are 2 or 3 Kantaram in between every two Pordhes. This means that there are at least 12 to 15 Kantaram in the Tiatr.

The uniqueness of the Tiatr lies in the fact that the story of the Tiatr is based on one particular theme whereas each Kantar is based on a different subject. Accordingly one particular subject is presented through the story of the Tiatr whereas 12 to 14 different subjects are tackled through 12 to 14 kantaram in the Tiatr. It is this aspect of the Tiatr that makes the Tiatr unique compared to other forms of dramatic art.

The word 'Tiatr' came from the Portuguese language "TEATRO" which means Theatre. In the beginning it was also written as Teatro and not as Tiatr. Those Tiatr writers who had an English background they wrote it as "THEATRE" which was sometimes spelt as Theatr. It was only when Kala Academy of Goa started the Tiatr Festivals way back in
mid 1970's, the amateur artistes who were more concerned with the development of the Tiatr Stage in all respects, stopped writing Teatro or Theatre and instead they Konkanised it as Tiatr. Today practically every Tiatr artiste writes it as Tiatr.

Structure of Tiatr

If one analyses the structure of a Tiatr, one finds that (1) A good story line, (2) attractive songs with pleasing music and (3) comedy linked to the play, form the basis of the Tiatr. The other aspects such as Stage Sets, Light Effects, Background music, acting etc form part and parcel of good direction. If all these ingredients are well balanced, the performance of the Tiatr is bound to be excellent.


 Script is the story line of the Tiatr. Fifty percent of the success of a Tiatr depends   on a good story . During the first two or three decades of the existence of Tiatr, the standard of Tiatr was raised with every production of a new Tiatr. The reason lies in the fact that most of the writers and directors of that time were educated persons. What happened on Marathi or Bengali Stages, has also taken place on Konkani Stage. The history of modern theatre in Bengali as well as in Marathi shows tremendous influence of English. Drama Tiatr is not an exception. There is a lot of influence of English Drama on Tiatr too. Therefore one finds translations of numerous English plays into Konkani Tiatr.

The translations of English plays were possible due to the fact that the writers and directors of Tiatr were having good educational background. This is the reason why we would see the inventor of Tiatr Lucazinho Ribeiro translating an Italian Opera into a Tiatr "Italian Bhurgo" which happened to the first Tiatr. Mr. Ribeiro also translated Ali Baba and Carlos Magno into Konkani and staged them as Tiatrs. Another outstanding Tiatr artiste of yesteryears was Sebastiao Gabriel D'Souza who was popularly known as Karachiwala He translated Merchant of Venice, Hamlet and some other English plays into Konkani. Joao Lazarus D'Souza staged Shakespeare "Romeo and Juliet" as Tiatr. This shows that Konkani Tiatr has come up in the same way as Marathi, Bengali or any other modern Stage.

 Joao Agostinho Fernandes who was called as the Father of Tiatr is responsible to give direction and guidance to write original script. He was a farsighted person having lot of creativity in him. His original scripts include Cavelchi Sundori, Revolta de Satari, and Bhattkara. Kunnbi Jaki, Bebdo, Dotichem Kestanv and Vavraddi. One can see that  Joao Agostinho Fernandes touched the subjects like caste system, ill effects of drinking,
problem of dowry system and dignity of labor much before these issues became serious problems in the society. Karachiwala wrote a Tiatr Kustoba and A.R. Rocha, produced excellent scripts in Dubhavi Ghorkarn and Mog ani Krim.

In the beginning of mid 20th century we come across numerous intelligent Script writers who produced Scripts of high standard. To name a few, Alexinho de Candolim's Dhormacho Bavtto and Amchea Xetachi Pavnni, Minguel Rod's Tarvoti Irmao,
Ghorchem Kestanv, Somestancho Rinnkari and Koddu Sonvsar, C. Alvares's Kednam Udetolo To Dis, Goencho Mog, Mhoji Vonnin etc, M. Boyer's Ekuch Rosto, Sonvsar Sudortolo, Ghor Dukhi Ganv Sukhi etc, Prem Kumar's Dukh and Vavraddi,
J.P. Sozalin's Hem Asa Tem, Nelson's Afonso's Ghorabo, Aristedes Dias's Divorce, Remy Colaso's Ghorabeachea Sukh, John Claro's Portuguese Kolvant are some of the excellent scripts which can boast of being of high standard.

However it was unfortunate to see that unlike in other languages, anyone and everyone started writing Tiatrs which had no depth. In order to create laughter in the audience they started including comedy without any link to the play. Due to this tendency jokes from magazines were acted thereby destroying the creativity of the writer.  Some of the writers started including vulgar dialogues thereby bringing the Tiatr to a very low standard.

Music & Song

The songs – Kantaram - sung between the Pordhes of the tiatr are equally responsible for the success of the Tiatr. Otherwise the audience passes comments like "the play was excellent but the songs were not good or the songs were interesting but not the play". Only when the play as well as the songs are good, then only the audience will say that the Tiatr was good.

The songs presented in the tiatr should also be of varied nature, i.e. Solos, Duets, Trios, Quartets and so on. They should also include comedy songs.
The production of a song includes (a) Composition of lyrics, (b) setting the music to the lyrics, and (c) singing of songs. In other language we find that there are lyrists who only compose the lyrics, there are musicians who only set the music to these lyrics, and persons having sweet voice to sing them. Rarely you will find an artiste who composes the lyrics, sets it to music and also sings. But on the Tiatr stage, it is totally different. The same artistes compose, set the music and sings too. Only the accompanying music is arranged by the musician.This attitude of our artistes has suppressed the true development of Konkani song - Kantar.

The lyrics of a song should enrich our Konkani literature. Thousands of songs are composed by our singers. How many of them can be considered as lyrics of high standard. Very few! Today quantity has increased at the cost of quality, which is not a good sign, If you analyze the songs composed by Kid Boxer, Alexinho de Candolim, M. Boyer, C. Alvares, Minguel Rod to name a few, you will find satisfaction in the lyrical value of their songs. Such compositions will always remain for posterity.

Music makes a song attractive. It gives flavor to the lyrics. It is very difficult to set music, Most of our singers, who compose the lyrics, do not know music. Hence they copy the tunes from other languages. They might be successful in getting tremendous applause from the audience, but in reality, they have not made any efforts to raise the standard of Konkani songs.

The only musician who has taken the Konkani songs to the highest level is Chris Perry. His music is original and pleasing. His music blends so well with lyrics that the song really has Goan touch. The other musician who has given excellent music to Konkani songs is Frank Fernand in the Konkani Films 'Amchem Noxib' and 'Nirmonn'. M. Alphonso is another  musician who have contributed a lot for the development of Konkani Kantar.  Alex and Fidelis also contributed ion providing good music in tiatrs

The singer is equally important for the song to be a complete success. His/her voice should be melodious and he/she must have the ability to modulate the voice as and when needed. While on stage, he/she must show expression on the face such that the songs become more meaningful to the audience. Alfred Rose is the only male singer who created a sensation in Konkani songs. Lorna is the only female singer so far who has captured the hearts of lovers of Konkani songs. Other singers who have contributed in this field are Dioguinho D’Melo, Souza Guiao, Kid Boxer, Young Menezes, C. Alvares, M. Boyer, etc and among the female singers we have Cecilia, Mohana and others.


Comedy is essential in the Tiatr if one wishes to make it a grand success. I have not seen any tiatr so far achieving success without the elements of comedy in it. You name any successful tiatr and you find that there is enough comedy in it.  The comedy in the tiatr should be linked to the main story of the Tiatr. All the artistes whom I have named above as good script writers, have seen that the comedy sequences formed part and parcel of the plot of the Tiatr.

Comedy in a Tiatr is one of the specific characteristics of this dramatic form and to preserve the uniqueness of Tiatr we cannot afford to lose the comedy aspect of the Tiatr. However, care should be taken not to include incidents which have no relevance to the main plot of the Tiatr In recent times, it is observed that some of the writers, in order to create laughter among the audience, include irrelevant incidents and jokes in their script. This is definitely damaging the development of Tiatr.  Anthony Mendes, Jacinto Vaz, Chanpion Peter, Jephsis Hitlers, etc were renowned comedians of Tiatr stage


Direction is one of the most important aspects of the performance of the Tiatr. The imagination of the director plays an important role in shaping the Tiatr performance. Besides being expert in acting, movements on the stage, facial expressions, and voice modulation, the Director must see that the Stage Setting is proper, Light Effects are effective, Background Music is relevant and the Make-up and Costumes are appropriate.

Although there are specialized persons to design the Stage Sets, to operate the Lights, to provide Background Music & to design Costumes, the Director is finally responsible for the overall performance of the Tiatr.

However on the Tiatr Stage all these aspects of direction are observed by very few Directors. Souzalino is one of the Directors who produced excellent religious Tiatrs with adequate Stage Setting, Light Effects, Costumes and Music.  Another Director who believed in presenting Tiatrs perfect in all respects is Prem Kumar. Others like C. Alvares, M. Boyer,  Aristides Dias also staged excellent performances of their tiatrs.

Types of Tiatr

Any drama in any language, in any state or country can be categorized into:-
(a) Historical, (b) Social (c) Political & (d) Religious. Are there enough Tiatrs staged in all these categories?

a) Compared to other categories, historical tiatrs are negligible. Joao Agostinho Fernandes in late 1890's wrote a tiatr Revolta de Sattari. The script of this Tiatr is not available but from the name I presume that it must be based on the historical facts. There may be one or more tiatrs in this category.

           The reason for not having enough historical Tiatrs is that the Tiatr writers were
           mostly Catholics and they did their education either in Portuguese or English.
           Due to this they never came in contact with our history i.e. the Indian
           history. Hence there are not many Tiatrs based on historical events.

b) Since the innovation of Tiatr most of the original scripts dealt with social issues such as evils of caste system, dowry problems and alcoholism, unity and disunity in the family, value of education, etc., Present social problems like drug addiction, AIDS, Protection of environment are also focussed through the tiatrs. Joao Agostinho Fernandes, Saib Rocha, C. Alvares, M. Boyer, Remmie Colaco, Aristides Dias, Minguel Rod, Prem Kumar and others have excelled in presenting Tiatrs on social themes.

c) Political Tiatrs were produced in good numbers only after the Liberation of Goa. Nelson Afonso produced two tiatrs namely Salazar and Nationalist. The Staging of these Tiatrs in different parts of Goa really took the Tiatr audience by surprise due to Afonso's courage in exposing political realities.

d) Religious Tiatrs were normally staged in the Lent season. Souzalino is the only artiste who directed religious tiatrs with excellence. Sat Dukhi, Panch Mister Horkache, Bhag Josechi Khorvont are some of the best religious tiatrs of  Souzalino.

Women on Tiatr stage

Like on any other stage, be it in our country or abroad women joined the drama stage much later due to social compulsions. A woman acting on a stage was looked down upon and was considered of low character. It took hundreds of years, even in developed countries, for women to act on the stage.

Going through the history of various theatres in the world one finds Isabela Andreini stepping on the stage some where in 1582 for the dramatic troupe " Commedia Dell'Arte" in France. Isabela was a finest actress and could act only because of her husband  Francisco Andreini who was acting in the same play.

 In our country women started acting somewhere in 1789, when Mrs Bristow, an English women, built her own theatre in Calcutta. The females namely Mrs. Deacle, Madam Dhermailvilla, and others who stepped on the stage that time were all from Britain. The first Indian woman to act was Binodine Dasi making way for others to enter the dramatic stage.

On the Tiatr stage it was Regina Fernandes who acted first, way back in 1904, in the Tiatr Bhattkara. Regina also could act on the stage because she was the wife of Joao Agostinho Fernandes who wrote and directed the tiatr Bhattkara. She was followed by numerous female artistes namely Carlota, Ermelinda, Mohana, Cecilia Machado, Philomena  and others.

Prior to the entry of women on the stage and even after, there were not enough actresses and as such, like all other stages, males had to perform the roles of females. The males who excelled in female roles are Andrew, Vincent de Saligao and Joaquim Caetano Coutinho,  who was popularly known as Miss Julie.

The Performers

In our discussion above, I have mentioned Tiatr artistes who have excelled either in Script writing, or Direction, or Singing, or Music, etc. But there are Tiatr artistes who have created a niche for themselves on the Tiatr field with their superb performances. They have enriched the Tiatr stage with excellent acting abilities.

Souza Ferrao is one  such actor who could act any role including that of females with excellence. While acting he used to live the character, thus creating  a real atmosphere in the play. Seby Coutinho is   yet another artiste who captured the hearts of Tiatr lovers with outstanding acting abilities. J.R. Fithna, a handsome actor could do any role, but his forte was the role of old persons. Other versatile actors of the Tiatr stage were Anthony D'sa, A.M.B. Rose, Valente Mascarenhas, Conception, Tony Sax and Peter Champion.

As comedy formed an integral part of a Tiatr, artistes acting in comedy roles have mesmerized the Tiatr audience. Jacinto Vaz is one such comedian who made the people laugh at the very sight  of his presence on the stage. His movements, facial expressions and modulation of the voice  as per the need of the role, gave a new direction to comedy. Anthony Mendes and Jephsis Hitler too did excellently well in comedy roles.

Impact of Tiatr

Does the Tiatr make an impact on the minds of the audience? Basically most of the Tiatrs are based on themes which directly touch our souls. The audience response in the auditorium is very impressive. It appears that the people in the auditorium  are moved by the message of the Tiatr or the song. But no, it is only momentary. There is no effect on the lives at all. This is because the Tiatr audience views the Tiatr as medium of entertainment only.
However Tiatr and songs in the Tiatr created awareness and roused  the feelings and emotions of the Goans during the time of Opinion Poll and during the struggle for making  Konkani the official language of Goa.

Role of Goa Kala Akademy

It was in 1974, that something very important took place in the field of Tiatr. For the first time the Kala Academy of Goa organised the 1st Tiatr Festival in May 1974. Till date the Kala Academy has organised 36 Tiatr Festivals.These Tiatr festivals give ample opportunities to the amateur artistes to bring innovations and new ideas on the tiatr stage. During the last 36 Tiatr festivals, it is observed that the standard of some of the Tiatrs staged during these Festivals were really of high nature. The writing of script of some of these Tiatrs showed originality and richness of thought, the stage settings could be compared to any of the developed stages, light effects were of superb quality and the direction of some of these Tiatrs showed the imaginative and observatory depth of the amateur artistes.

Popularity of Tiatr

There is no doubt that the most popular dramatic form in Goa is the Tiatr. Since 1892 to 2011,  a period of hundred and nineteen years, it is observed that Tiatr is getting more and more popular day after day and year after year. No feast, even in the small wards of the villages in Goa, could be complete without staging a Tiatr. Each troupe stages the performance of its Tiatr at least many times in different parts of Goa. There are tiatr directors who have successfully staged over 200 performances of their tiatrs There is no other dramatic form be it Marathi drama or Konkani drama or English drama which can match the popularity of Tiatr  in Goa. It is for this reason that I consider Konkani Tiatr - The Stage of Goa.

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