The Konkani theatre form called tiatr has come a long way since its first adaptation in 1892 when Lucasinho Ribeiro staged Italian Burgo in Mumbai. Today, everything from props used to the light effects and costumes have undergone modernization, but what has undergone the most change is the song and the story.
Joao Agosthinho Fernandes, also called Pai Tiatrist, was the first to write an original tiatr titled Cavelchi Sundori in 1893 years after Lucasinho adapted Italian Burgo. At the time and following the 26 other tiatrs he wrote, he was known to focus on issues plaguing Goans at the time including dowry, the caste system and alcoholism. The trend was continued by the likes of Saib Rocha, C. Alvares, M. Boyer, Remmie Colaco, Aristides Dias, Minguel Rod and Prem Kumar.
In the 30s and 40s, only curtains were used as backdrops. The curtains had the background images required for the scene painted onto the curtains itself. They would then be replaced by another curtain with a different image for another scene. After liberation, the curtains were replaced with flats. These represented exact structures required to present the scene. These included items of décor as well like sofas and tables.
As an experiment, Nelson Afonso had introduced the revolving stage that proved to have an added advantage over the requirement of constantly moving things around. The two sets were on either side of each other. With one set done with, the stage simply had to be rotated to the other side facing the audience with the second set. Later another tiatrist, Prem Kumar made the use of a sliding stage that had two stages set next to each other. This setting was popularly used in villages as setting new sets were time consuming.
In the earlier days, including the beginning of the 1900’s, tiatrists made use of simple Petromax lights or kerosene lamps to present scenes of a tiatr. Ever since the age of electricity came along, bulbs of varying colours helped in dramatizing the scene as and when was required.
Background music is also a thing of modern ages. In the past, there was no term known as background music, and tiatrists relied on sounds created on the stage to emphasize the situation. Then came drums and guitars, which were played as a snare or a note to represent moments of humour or suspense. Today, every scene is systematically and scientifically placed from the beginning to the end with musicians on queue.
Costumes in tiatrs of the past and in non commercial forms tend to be more realistic and life like, unlike commercial tiatrs. Today, with added income to spend on costumes, tiatrists tend to go all out of their way to wear the best of clothes and invest in makeup.
A stark change in language can be seen in the way they’re enacted. Most scripts were written and performed in the Bardez dialect, including parts that were comedic in nature. The Salcete dialect having a natural tendency to sound funny is more common in commercial tiatrs.
When it came to songs, tiatrists of the past have inculcated sarcasm and facts in their political kantarams. Speaking on the issue, veteran Rita Rose said, “During our time, there were tiatrists who would sing songs about politicians on stage, but not in a manner that was degrading.” Today, the trend is to attack politicians directly and many times, personally.
The trend to sing political songs began soon after Goa’s liberation, with tiatrists like Anthony Nelson who had openly sung against issues like corruption. He was part of one of the state’s most famous trio. They had been sarcastic, yet critical but never defamatory.
While the commercial tiatrs appeal to a wider audience that looks to sensationalism, the non commercial kind also get their fair share of the audience. The best example is that of the Kala Academy Tiatr Competition held annually and encourages independent writers to tell their stories. Most of these tend to come from villages but also pay close attention to the language, props and costumes used.
As far as infrastructure is concerned, the industry has definitely received a boost with institutions like Margao’s Ravindra Bhavan and Panaji’s Kala Academy. The challenge now is to get the younger generation involved in the theatre art form. A step in the direction has been taken by the Tiatr Academy of Goa that since 2010 has organised the Children’s Tiatr Competition where children of 16 years and younger are encouraged to write, direct and act in original tiatrs.