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 'Ave Maria' of 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 Teatrocame into existence on 17th April, 1892. it 

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 a 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 TiatrToday 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

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

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

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