A Brief History of Tiatr
Iris CF Gomes
As dramatic and over the top as tiatr can be, it cannot be denied that it is quintessentially Goan and has proven time and again to be a vehicle of social, political and cultural messages. There is a certain section of Goans who attempt to distance themselves from tiatr, believing themselves to be culturally superior to individuals who are a frequent audience. I remember my English professor at Carmel College declaring that Shakespeare’s plays were nothing but the tiatr of his times. It is indeed ironical that even today we have Goans studying Shakespeare in detail and disdaining this Goan form of theatre.
Tiatr has existed in Goa for over 125 years and has historically played a part in the preservation of the Konkani language and culture during the Portuguese rule. The tiatr is divided into parts called pordhe (the singular is pordho). Between two pordhe there will be two or three kantaram (songs) where the singers are accompanied by a live band using Western musical instruments. The kantaram cover various issues while the tiatr covers one theme, although they are all socially, politically, religious, and morally charged themes. Satire is integral to tiatr and there is always a comedian, much like the Shakespearean fool, who is the voice of truth.
Tiatr began as a theatre form thanks to Constancio Lucasinho Caridade Ribeiro, a native of Assagao, Goa. It is Lucasinho Ribeiro, born in 1863, who is the father of tiatr and not Joao Agostinho Fernandes, or Pai Tiatrist, as he is better known.
Before tiatr, there were zagors (dance dramas) in the north of Goa and khells in the south. Neither of these has had a direct role in the emergence of the tiatr form. The word tiatr comes from the Portuguese teatro which means ‘theatre’. Somewhere in the 1890s, Bombay (Mumbai), along with other significant Indian cities, saw people enjoying the entertainment of Italian operas. Lucasinho obtained a job as a back-stage artiste with a travelling Italian opera company. The company performed in Bombay, Madras, Simla, Calcutta, and when it arrived in Burma, Ribeiro returned to Bombay.
Lucasinho brought with him some of the costumes from one of the company’s operettas and staged the first tiatr Italian Bhurgo, written by him. The play was similar to the Italian operettas in style and was in fact a storyline taken from an Italian operetta called Italian Boy. The first tiatr was a challenge because Lucasinho Ribeiro managed to perform the play with five actors for nine roles, which was far fewer actors than he needed to play the double and triple roles in his play. He pulled off a successful first performance with actors Joao Agostinho Fernandes, Caetaninho Fernandes, Agostinho Mascarenhas, another actor, and himself on the 17th of April 1892 at the New Alfred Theatre in Bombay. The technique of using kantaram to entertain the audience while the curtain was down to allow time to set up the next scene was introduced by Lucasinho.
The actors formed the Goa Dramatic Company and produced plays based on the stories of Ali Baba, Aladdin and Carlos Magno. Later Lucasinho formed the Ribeiro and Cruz Opera Company.
Joao Agostinho Fernandes, unlike Lucasinho, is credited with writing prolifically original scripts that were more diverse in their themes highlighting social wrongs in Goa, and therefore most decidedly deserves the epithet of Pai Tiatrist. He was also the first to write his own lyrics and musical scores. Regina Fernandes, the wife of Joao Agostinho Fernandes, was the first woman to act in a tiatr, making her maiden appearance in 1904 in Bhattkara (Landlord).
C Alvares (Celestino Santana Franco Alvares) is another name to reckon with in Konkani tiatr. His contributions to the art form are well noted. He was a talented actor, able to realistically play a drunkard despite being a teetotaller. His first tiatr was Atam Zanvolm Hanv Tuzo. He acted in Konkani films such as Nirmonn, Mhoji Ghorkarn and Bhuienrantlo Munis (Cave Man) and wrote dialogues and songs for the same. He played an effective role in roping in a number of young women to act in tiatr, counting among his protégées Mohana, Cecilia, Antonetta, Filomena, Ophelia, Carmen, Rose, Betty Ferns, etc. Apart from being a versatile actor, C Alvares was a singer, composer, director and playwright. Among his many awards is the National Award for Best Actor in the film Nirmonn.
M Boyer was renowned for composing songs there and then. His first tiatr was Rinkari and he was the comedian in most of his plays. JP D’Souza earned the prestige of being compared to Cecil B de Mille. Betty Fernandes performed roles as a mad woman, a lame girl, and a dumb woman with aplomb. Her finest work was that of a prostitute in Mike Mehta’s Grant Road. Ophelia earned the title of ‘tragedy queen’ while Robin Vaz, noted for his religious plays (Don Bosco, Domnic Savio, Fatima Saibinn, etc), performed for Pope Paul VI at the Eucharistic Congress at Mumbai. There are many tiatrists who made great contributions including Alfred Rose and Prem Kumar. Today Irineu Gonsalves, Wilson Mazarello, Prince Jacob, John D’Silva and many more carry this theatre form ahead, keeping it alive for future generations of Goans.
In 2009, the Tiatr Academy of Goa was established under the presidency of Tomazinho Cardozo, thanks to erstwhile Chief Minister Digambar Kamat. The organisation exists to support and preserve tiatr, and bring recognition and appreciation to talent where it is due.
Tiatr Machi (An anthology of articles on tiatr) Part-2; compiled by Dr Carlos M Fernandes, Prashant R Phadte and Vinda S Gadekar.
The Tiatr Academy of Goa website: www.tiatracademygoa.com