Monday, January 21, 2008

Goan Tiatr - Not a Folk Drama

Goan Tiatr - Not a Folk Drama
By Tomazinho Cardozo

The other day Mr Paul Moras, a Konkani writer from Mangalore, came to meet me to get some more information on the Goan tiatr. Mr Moras is writing a book on Goan culture and the study of tiatr is a part of his book. When I told him that the Goan tiatr is a product of the fusion of modern drama and song, he could not believe it because everyone he had contacted in Goa in this regard - ( writers of Konkani in Devnagari scripts ) - had told him that Goan tiatr is a folk drama. I have also observed that Mr Pundalik Naik in his article ‘The tiatr Magic’ in the book ‘Redefining Horizons’ published by the department of information and publicity, government of Goa also gives the impression that the Goan tiatr is a folk play. Mr Vinayak Vishnu Khedekar, in his book ‘Loksarita’ in Marathi published by the Kala Akademy of Goa says that the soul of tiatr is folk drama. In the recently published catalogue “Tiatristes - Portraits by Alex Fernandes”, Mr Ranjit Hoskote in his introductory essay calls Goan tiatr a folk form of theatre. There are many other Konkani writers who consider Goan tiatr a form of folk theatre. My question is, on what basis can Goan tiatr be classified as a folk form of drama?

Writers who consider tiatr to be a folk drama have not understood the difference between tiatr and khell-tiatr. For them both are the same. In reality Khell-tiatr is an extension of the Goan folk play called khell or fell. About 30-35 years ago, the khell or fell, which was earlier performed on the ground, came to be performed on stage. Since that day it was called khell-tiatr. There is no doubt that it had a folk element in it when it was staged for the first time. Today khell-tiatr also shows no signs of folk theatre.

As I understand, a folk dramas or songs or music are generally limited to the knowledge transmitted from one generation to another by word of mouth or imitation. Their composers and writers are unknown. There are no written records of the prose, music and song. The music is crude, the singers are hoarse, musical instruments rustic and traditional and musicians unrefined. In case of the tiatr there is no such evidence whatsoever to say that it belongs to the folk category.

The confusion about the tiatr being a folk drama has arisen because some people do not have a proper understanding of the concept of tiatr. The tiatr has prose as well as music and song. Hence, it cannot be classified as a prose drama or a musical drama. The plot is divided into six or seven acts called ‘Podd’dde’. In between these acts there are two or three songs - kantaram - which are not related to the storyline of the play at all. Each song is composed on a different theme. Therefore if the plot of the play is based on a particular theme then it will have 12 to 14 songs based on various issues.

Let us examine how the tiatr format evolved. The first tiatr “Italian Bhurgo” was written by Lucasinho Ribeiro and staged in Mumbai on April 17, 1892. This tiatr was an adaptation of the Italian opera called ‘Italian Boy’. When Mr Ribeiro encountered difficulties setting up the stage for different scenes (time was wasted during the change of setting), he thought of introducing songs in front of the curtain while the stage was being set for the next scene behind the curtain. This way the audience was not bored. He succeeded in his first attempt. And this format came to be known as tiatr. The source of the script was known. The writer was also known. Secondly, the musical instruments used to provide music for the songs included a violin, a banjo, a trumpet, a saxophone and a drum. There were no rustic musical instruments used nor were the songs traditional. The musicians had studied music and learnt to read and write the score. This format came into existence during the days when there was tremendous influence of European modern theatre on Indian theatre.

After the success of the first tiatr ‘Italian Bhurgo’ Lucasinho Ribeiro translated some more world classics such as Alladin, Ali Baba and Carlos Magno. Sebastiao Gabriel D’Souza translated the ‘Merchant of Venice’, ‘As You Like It’, ‘Hamlet’ and ‘Winter’s Tale’ and staged them in the tiatr format. Joao Lazarus D’Souza adapted and staged ‘Romeo and Juliet’.

Joao Agostinho Fernandes was the first writer to write original scripts on themes highlighting injustices in the Goan society. He was also pioneered the composing of lyrics and original music scores. In view of this it is clear that tiatr has no relevance to folk theatre or folk songs or folk music. Tiatr is a product of modern theatre - a fusion of modern prose and modern song and music.

(The Navhind Times)


Nightrunner said...

I am very surprised to have been misquoted and misrepresented by Mr Cardozo. I have nowhere described Tiatr as a 'folk form of theatre'. On the contrary, in my catalogue essay for Alex Fernandes' exhibition. 'Tiatristes', I situate Tiatr within the context of a diasporic, metropolitan modernity -- specifically, in the imagination of Goan migrants in Bombay, who founded the form, which then travelled 'back' to Goa. My provisional description for such a form is 'urban folk opera' -- a distinct category, not to be confused with folk in its traditional or rural meanings. Ranjit Hoskote

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