For more than 100 years, the unique theatrical stylings of Goa’s predominant performance tradition – tiatr – have entertained Konkani audiences in the state and elsewhere. A new production now aims to adapt and build on this joyous tradition.

Loretta, directed by Sunil Shanbag, is set on a Goan river island in the 1970s, where Antonio Piedade Moraes, a staunchly proud widower and landlord, lives in style surrounded by a retinue of staff. When his son Rafael returns to Goa from Mumbai after completing his education, he brings along his Anglo-Indian girlfriend Loretta. Moraes doesn’t immediately take to the girl, and as a precondition for her staying on the island abode, he demands that she learn Konkani.

Rozzlin Pereira, who plays Loretta, with her co-actor Sattvic during a rehearsal.
Rozzlin Pereira, who plays Loretta, with her co-actor Sattvic during a rehearsal.

The play – which will be staged in Mumbai in the first week of April as part of the Aadyam theatre initiative of the Aditya Birla group – has been written by Pundalik Naik and adapted into English by Milind Dhaimade. “I was looking for a script that tackled issues of language,” said Shanbag. “I really wanted to explore identity, the debate around language and culture.”

Liberating theatre

Shanbag, a veteran theatreperson, said the form of tiatr had always interested him and was one he had been thinking about adapting for a few years now. He said the mélange of elements including the use of Konkani, the live music and the little satirical side shows were what attracted him to the theatre form. “That the main play can have these interludes – I loved that idea,” he said. “It’s very liberating and a wonderful vehicle for popular satire.”

These side sketches of sorts, which lampoon political figures and offer a form of comical social commentary, have been written by comedian Varun Grover, whom Shanbag approached after watching one of his performances. The music has been composed by Ronnie Monsorate and Asif Ali Beg.

'Loretta' director Sunil Shanbag has always wanted to work on tiatr.
'Loretta' director Sunil Shanbag has always wanted to work on tiatr.

“The colour is wonderfully Goan,” said Shanbag. “The form is very exciting. So I said, let me do a production with these joyful elements inspired by tiatr.”

The theatrical innovation of this now very Goan form is credited to the genius of one Lucasinho Ribeiro who wrote and performed the first such event in Bombay (as it was called then) in April 1892. Ribeiro is believed to have been inspired by Italian opera. Starting off as a kind of high culture, tiatr has since become a form of mass entertainment for the Konkani-speaking working classes.

Language and identity

Rozzlin Pereira, who plays Loretta, is a Goan, born and raised in Mumbai, and said some of the play’s themes – on Konkani language and identity – were conversations she’d been a part of while growing up. “The script hit a chord with me,” she said. “It has depth, comedy, fresh characters, dance and music.”

The play will be performed on April 2 and 3 at the National Centre for the Performing Arts at Nariman Point, and the following weekend at St Andrew’s in Bandra. It will travel to Delhi in May.

Danish Husain, who plays a man Friday to the landlord father, will also appear in the satirical side shows interspersed between the main dramatic acts. Husain has performed extensively in Hindi, Urdu and English and is best known as a dastangoi (a form of Urdu story-telling) performer. This will be his first Konkani role. “It’s exciting and challenging,” he said. “Both as a form and the role itself.”

Tiatr is not new to Mumbai, considering the city gave birth to it and troupes perform regularly for members of the Goan community here, but it might be new for English theatre-going audiences. “It might be different and novel but it will also be familiar,” said Shanbag. “The form itself is not an alien form. You see similar things in Parsi theatre, in natya sangeet, in folk theatre, even in older Hindi films.”