Konkani 'Tiatr' originated in Bombay - by Flaviano Dias

Tiatr, a popular stage art form of the Goan Catholic masses, is facing a challenge in its centuary year. Like other stage art forms, tiatr was looked down by the elite and the middle class Goans in Bombay, where it originated in the last centuary.  However tiatr survived on the patronage of Goan working people in Bombay, Pune and far away Karachi (which was part of the Bombay province then).  The theatre movement got a new direction when the British residents of Bombay set up a play house at Grant Road (locally known as PILA HOUSE and now falls in the red-light area and mostly stages Marathi Tamashas).  Here Parsi and Marathi dramas were also being staged.  Later Royal Opera House was constructed in Girgaum area.

Govind Narayan Madgoankar who wrote his 'Mumbaichem Varnan' gives vivid picture of the first 25 years of the British regime in Bombay around 1820.  He denounces the theatre and states it would spoil the youth.  He says while the dramas written in English were by educated persons, in Bombay, they were being staged by the illiterates.  Most of the dramas contained vulgar fun.  Even in England he says drama actors are not considered respectable.  His views were generally shared by most of the middle class persons in those days.

Like Marathi dramas, the tiatr took inspiration from operas staged in Bombay.  While the Marathi theatre introduced songs in their 'sangeet natya' following opera style, the Goan tiatrist rendered funny songs in between two parts of the 'tiatr' and called them 'clowns'.

The Parsi theatre too had such funny characters coming between two acts of their plays while the stage settings are being changed.  Goans saw these stage performances when they went with their employers to these shows.  Another factor that helped the tiatr development are the Goan bands.

In those days, when silent films were being shown in some cinema houses, Goans bands used to provide the musical interlude.  These bands became useful for tiatr and later to the Hindi film industry too.  Goan migration to Bombay had increased by then and several residential clubs (cudds) were set up on village and caste basis.  The women too established separate clubs for Goan girls working in Parsi, British and other rich persons' houses.

There were about 500 such Goan clubs mostly situated at Dhobitalao, Mazagaon and other areas of Bombay. This was the ready audience for tiatr in addition to other Goan families staying in South Bombay.  

Tiatrists too were working persons and were able to stage their dramas only during the weekends at Bhangwadi Theatre, where Konkani, Marathi and Gujrathi dramas were regularly staged.  The century old Bhangwadi Theatre now closed, and Goans stage their dramas at Dinanath, Birla Matushree, Damodar Hall and other suburban halls.  By now the Konkani tiatr is also being patronised by some Mangaloreans and East Indians in Bombay.  In suburban areas of Bombay, Goan tiatrists and others organized their shows at the time of feasts or other cultural occasions.

However in all these tiatrs, males used to perform female roles as in other theatres in India.  But the Marathi stage got out of this development much faster than Konkani tiatr(?).  Only when film actress like Mohana came on the stage, a new era of girls was opened up.

While other theatres including Marathi followed the western form of three acts, the Goan tiatr continued their six or seven curtain (pordde) form.  Strangely, the audience still gives more importance to the songs rendered in between parts of the tiatr rather than the plot or story of tiatr itself.

Development of film industry, affected the other theatres more than the Konkani tiatr probably because of the songs composed on diverse issues and subjects. During the freedom struggle of goa, nationalists tried to stage patriotic tiatrs but they could not pass the hurdle of the Portuguese censorship.  In addition to the pre-censorship, the Portuguese sent their police and informants to hear the songs which might have been changed at the last moment.  The Portuguese propagandists also tried to use 'tiatr' medium for denouncing 'Jai Hindists'.

Even after 100 years, the tiatr is still marching along the same trodden path though some attempts has been made towards change after liberation.  The plots of tiatr have changed, performance has improved but the huge cost of stage settings and even of staging tiatrs is keeping it behind other threatres. The other difficulty of tiatr is its limited audience of Goan Catholics compared to, say the Marathi stage, which has a wider appeal.

The spread of education in Goa has led to changes in the villages, and likely to affect popularity of tiatr.  The entry of TV and now Star & BBC has changed people's demand.  The video parlours have opened up another vista for the village folks, some of whom have petro-dollars to burn.

The danger is now to the entire cultural being of Indians (and Goans) because of the cultural intrusion in homes through these new media forms.  

The Goan mandos and other folk songs are already replaced amongst upper classes by pop, rock and other western forms of music.  Slowly, the western forms are percolating into the life of the masses too in rural ares.

'Tiatr' started with the inspiration of the western Opera form can last, if it is able to assimilate the rock form of music as the Hindi film industry is trying to do.  Or provide something different that would hold people's attention.

A study made of the different information medium has indicated that the major audience size is being cornered by monthly and weekly magazines, newspapers, radio and TV.  Theatre receives less patrongage than even books, movies(?).

The Goan public must see the danger and take steps with the help of the authorities not to allow the local cultural forms in this new information age.
(Courtesy: Goa Post)

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Special Thanks for the arrangements: Gaspar Almeida
with Fausto V. Da Costa. {Amchea kerit dhinvas Gaspar
Almeida ani Fausto V. Da Costa-k) - Goa-World Team