Sunday 25 September 2016

Tiatr's Bombay Days

A study of Tiatr's Bombay Days, by Dr Kyoko Matsukawa, a Japanese scholar with a great mastery of this medium. Only the awareness of the caste dimension is missing - which is, instead, clearly present in Melo e Castro's two volume anthology of Goan Short Stories originally written in Portuguese. See Paul Melo e Castro, Lengthening Shadows: An anthology of Goa short stories translated from Portuguese, vols. 1-2. Saligao: Goa 1556 / Margao: Golden Heart Emporium, 2016. (My post below of 17 August 2016)

Here is the original mail from, 13 August 2016:

Tiatr's Bombay Days

Dr. Kyoko Matsukawa

Dr. Kyoko Matsukawa is Associate Professor of Cultural
Anthropology at the Department of Sociology, Konan
University, Kobe, Japan.

My association with Goa started in 1997. I finished my MA in
Cultural Anthropology in Japan (my thesis was on the status
of Christianity in India in the past and present). I had to
decide on another topic for further fieldwork and research --
a kind of rite of passage in the discipline. I had already
made up my mind to go to India as I wanted to see how
Christianity was being practiced there today.

          A professor from Kyoto University suggested that
          Goa might be an interesting place for me. So I
          visited Goa briefly and fell in love with the place
          and its people. Eventually, I ended up spending 18
          months in Goa between April 2000 and September 2001.

My fieldwork was mainly on the multilingual situation of Goan
society. In my Ph.D. thesis I examined the connection between
the social and cultural structure of Goa and the use of
languages among people: Konkani, Marathi, Portuguese and
English. I focused on the late 1980s during which the Konkani
movement had intensified.

In the course of my research, I realized that I was in fact
examining the transformation of Goan society from a
Portuguese colony to a part of independent India. The plight
of Konkani today reflects the socio-cultural issues of Goan

In recent years, my research interest shifted towards how
Konkani ties people together inside and outside Goa. It
appeared to me that I could get further insight into this by
looking at the past and present of Konkani theatre, tiatr.

My First Encounter with Tiatr

It was a few days before the feast of Our Lady of Merces
Church in November 2000. I had moved into an apartment of a
Christian couple as a paying guest in July. We were relaxing
in the living room in the evening when someone knocked at the
door and the vicar of the church came in. He requested uncle
and aunty (as I would refer to the Christian couple) to
purchase some tickets for a 'drama'.

They bought three tickets. On the evening of the feast we
went to the church compound where a makeshift stage was set
up. My ticket had 'NON-STOP-TIATR' written on it. The title
of the drama was Nixannim. Although I could not follow the
comic parts too well, I understood the main storyline.

A young woman was pregnant but her lover left her and married
another woman. She felt desperate and after giving birth to a
baby boy, left for the Gulf leaving her child in the care of
her neighbour. The boy was sold to a family and grew up into
a fine young man without knowing his true mother. The story
revolved around the son's encounter with his mother when she
returned from the Gulf.

The performance was well received by the audience. They
clapped and whistled at the comedians who satirized Goan
politicians (in that evening's performance, the then-recently
resigned Chief Minister of Goa, Francisco Sardinha was
bitterly criticized).

This encounter with tiatr left a deep impression on me. I
realised that I could learn a lot about Goa from tiatrs!

          After that I started to watch tiatr performances in
          earnest. I imagine it must have been strange for
          people to see a Japanese woman attending theatre
          halls like Kala Academy in Panaji and Gomant Vidya
          Niketan in Margao alone and laughing at comedies in

From Goa to Bombay While gaining more knowledge about tiatr
my desire to go to Bombay grew. It is well-known that the
first tiatr, Italian Bhurgo, was staged by Lucasinho Ribeiro
on Easter Sunday, April 17, 1892, in the city. What intrigued
me was the socio-historical background of the birth of this
unique drama form.

The nineteenth-century witnessed the growth of business in
the city. The first cotton-textile mills were established in
the 1850s. The start of the American Civil War in 1861 was a
boon for Bombay. America's supply of cotton to Europe was
halted and the Lancashire textile industry became dependent
on Indian cotton, which was exported through Bombay.

The prosperity of the city attracted a workforce from the
Konkan region and other parts of Maharashtra as well as
traders from Gujarat (Prakash 2010). Bombay became a vibrant
place open to new styles and technologies, not just
economically but culturally as well. Parsi theatre was one of
the products of this era. It found patronage in prominent
merchants such as Jagannath Shankarset and Jamsetjee
Jeejeebhoy. The former donated a building site for the Grant
Road Theatre, which soon became the centre of Indian
theatrical performances. The Parsi theatre introduced a
proscenium arch, massive painted curtains and gaslights.

As Kathryn Hansen says, "Theatricality had suddenly reached a
new level" (2002: 40-41). At the same time Bombay became the
destination for itinerant music troupes. As Naresh Fernandes
shows in his work, Taj Mahal Foxtrot, the first opera company
visited Bombay in 1864 and later, in the first part of the
twentieth-century, well-known American jazz musicians toured
Bombay and their performances were received with great
enthusiasm among the locals (Fernandes 2012).

          The migration of Goan to Bombay took place in this
          context. By the time Ribeiro staged his tiatr, a
          considerable number of working-class Goans had
          already been employed as waiters, butlers, cooks,
          servants, tailors, musicians and governesses in the
          city. After Ribeiro, Joao Agostinho Fernandes
          (fondly referred to as 'Pai Tiatrist'), Saib Rocha
          and J.P. Souzalin wrote original scripts and
          established the standard form of the play. The
          above mentioned working-class migrants were their
          principal audience.

In 2010, I embarked on a project to create a short film on
tiatr. I felt it was necessary to capture the memories of the
Bombay days, especially of the 'golden phase of the stage'
from the 1930s to the 1970s, as André Rafael Fernandes calls
it (2010).

Two years later I had an opportunity to travel to Mumbai and
visit the places where Goan migrants used to live and tiatr
activities took place. I was very fortunate to become
acquainted with Cyriaco Dias, the veteran artist who was
actively involved in those days. He also appeared in Amchem
Noxib and Nirmon, the popular Konkani films produced by Frank
Fernand in 1963 and 1966 respectively.

Cyriaco agreed to guide me during this phase of
documentation. We were joined by Gasper D'Souza, a video
journalist and friend of mine. We began our documentation on
August 29, 2012. The Memories of Tiatr’s Bombay Days On our
way to meet the veteran tiatrists Betty Naz and Antonette
Mendes that evening, Cyriaco told us anecdotes of another
legend of the stage, C. Alvares.

          On the Saturdays that he was free, Cyriaco visited
          Alvares's house to dictate plays. Before narrating
          the stories, Alvares always had a perfect idea
          about them. Cyriaco worked with him from 8:00 am to
          1:00 pm. They resumed after lunch and by 7:30 or
          8:30 pm, a script of a tiatr, with seven cantars
          (songs) included, was ready. It was not necessary
          to rewrite it.

Memories of Alvares were still vivid among the Bombay
artists. Antonette too told me of how hospitable he was.
Whenever he found his friends in a restaurant he beckoned to
them saying, 'Yo re!', and treated everyone. He was always a
generous person, limiting his own share from the ticket sales
to a bare minimum.

The next day, we began tracing the venues where tiatrs were
performed in the 1960s and 1970s. The image of the Princess
Theatre at Bhangwadi was still fresh in the mind of the
Bombay tiatrists. Kaiwan Mehta mentions in his book, that
Bhangwadi derived its name from the many retail opium shops
that lined the gateway and courtyard (Mehta 2009).

The hall, which used to be located on Kalbadevi Road had been
demolished a long time ago. An apartment building now stood
in its place. Nearby, the Edward Theatre where the film
Amchem Noxib had been screened was still standing. At its
entrance a huge palanquin-bearing elephant greeted us.
Gujarati Parsi plays were actively staged here in the

According to Cyriaco Dias, "If an artist performed on the
stage of the Bhangwadi, it was like you passed an exam. You
could then act on whichever stage."

There was a square cut in the centre of the stage. It was the
stage elevator, which Cyriaco Dias had also operated. "There
was a beauty in the hall. You could make wonders," he said.

The capacity of the hall was 848. The shows took place on
Tuesdays and Fridays. Other tiatrists too, like Titta Pretto,
Antonette Mendes, Betty Naz and Betty Ferns described their
memories of the hall. Titta particularly associated the venue
as the launchpad to his career as an artist. He told me how
at the age of thirteen or fourteen he ran and got into a tram
to watch Miguel Rod's Ghorachem Kestanv at the Bhangwadi.

After Bhangwadi, we went to Dhobi Talao. Here we visited Jer
Mahal (the music shop, B. X. Furtado & Sons occupies the
ground floor of the building). The building was constructed
in 1914 and has housed the largest number of Goan clubs,
according to Dr. Teresa Albuquerque (2012: 20). It was at a
streetside here that migrant Goan musicians once sat waiting
for their employers.

At the iconic Kyani Restaurant, also situated on Jer Mahal's
ground floor, Cyriaco Dias enjoyed bread pudding with C.
Alvares, Remmie Colaco and others. When we went down
Jagannath Shankar Seth Road a man approached us. It was Rex
Fernandes, the proprietor of Rorex Tours and Travels.

Adjacent to his shop was Cosma & Co., the ticket selling
point of the tiatrs. Rex Fernandes had recognized Cyriaco
Dias. Since Rex happened to be a member of the nearby Grand
Club of Cortalim, he showed us around the inside of the club.

Many Goans resided in such kudds. They were the main audience
for tiatr performances. Even artists stayed there. Minguel
Rod too had been a resident at the club. Apparently, even
after the light-out time of 10:00 pm, he kept penning his
tiatr scripts in the loft with the dim light of a candle.

We continued hunting for places where tiatrs used to be
performed. Public halls such as the Royal Opera House, R. L.
Tejpal Hall (now called Gokuldas Tejpal Auditorium, used
mostly for Gujarati dramas) in Gowalia Tank, Birla Hall in
Dhobi Talao, Ravindra Natya Mandir in Prabhadevi, etc.

There had also been open-air performances at venues such as
the Rang Bhavan in Dhobi Talao and Victoria Gardens (Jijamata
Udyaan). School and church halls too were common venues for
tiatr performances such as St. Xavier's College in Dhobi
Talao, St. Mary's School in Mazagaon and Gloria Church in
Byculla. For instance, the handbill of Alvares’s 1977 tiatr,
Athantlim Kanknnam tells us that the drama was staged at
Damodar Hall (Parel), St. Mary's Hall, Birla Hall, Ravindra
Mandir, St. Anthony's Hall (Vakola), Bhaidas Hall (Vile
Parle), St. Peter's Hall (Bandra) and Tejpal Hall from August
6-17. The tickets cost from Rs. 4 to Rs. 6.

Inside the compound of the Gloria Church stands a small kiosk
called the 'Jack of All Stall' where people used to buy
tickets. The owner told us that the number of Goans in the
congregation -- once 2,000 -- had been decreasing. His father
used to be a contractor and arranged shows at St. Mary's hall
three times a day on Sundays. He still sells tickets for
Menino de Bandar's dramas but it is difficult to find an

Titta Pretto said, as a contractor, he had arranged for many
new halls. Until the 1990s many shows were staged but after
that the centre of tiatr shifted to Goa. At the end of our
journey, I had the opportunity to interview the Bombay
tiatrists. We visited the Late Prem Kumar's place on the
second floor of a crowded building in Mumbai Central. His
wife, Ramona spoke to us about her husband's enthusiasm for
tiatrs. She used to type his scripts at home. She sometimes
accompanied him to a neighbourhood hotel to note down plots
and dialogue. A special seat was reserved for him at the
hotel. Even very late in the night, whenever good ideas came
into his mind, he got out of bed and she would write down
whatever he told her. He would bind all of his scripts and
she showed us the specially bound script of Vauraddi.

Betty Ferns told us about her experiences too. She remembered
that Prem Kumar's Jivit Ek Sopon was staged at Bhangwadi time
and again. At times a houseful performance at night was
followed by a houseful performance the next day. Sometimes
there was no time to print tickets and a piece of paper was
given as a ticket.

Antonette remembered Prem Kumar as a unique director. She
told us how he put live snakes on the stage in Angounn. There
were snakes hanging here and there and she had to pass
through them. She was very scared but Prem Kumar said, "They
will not eat you, they will never bite you." As such, he
brought many innovations on the Konkani stage (Mazarello
2000: 127-129).

We also visited Ophelia D’Souza's house in Mahim where Titta,
Ophelia, Antonette, Rita Rose and Betty Naz got together.
Make-up man, Caiti, also told us about his engagement with
the artists. We travelled to Malad to meet Succorine Fizardo
too. They all emphasized the team spirit between them. Betty
Naz recalled those days saying, "Ami jedna Bomboy savn Gõyam
vetaleanv tedna ami eka ghoran ravtalim, ek famil koxi ani
sogllim ami borem enjoy kortaleanv. Ek bhav-boinni koxim ami
sogllim barabor astaleanv, tiatrak voita astana amkam ek bos
astali. Sogllim ami bosan vetalim ani ietalim ani bore amche
dis voitale Gõyam astana. (When we came to Goa from Bombay,
we usually stayed in one house as a family and really enjoyed
ourselves. We were like brothers and sisters. We would go for
the tiatr and come back together by bus. While we were in Goa
our days passed with joy.)"

The strong bond they used to have among them is still
evident. This affection and love for Goa and Goans is
certainly at the heart of the popularity of tiatrs in Goa
even today (although many worry about its commercialization).

Some efforts have been made to record Bombay Goenkars'
stories from that era (Martins 2014). However, there is scope
for more work to be done in order to preserve the memories of
tiatr's Bombay days. If possible, I would like to make
another trip to Mumbai to listen to more stories.


I would like to express special thanks to Cyriaco Dias for
all the assistance he gave me in Mumbai. I am grateful to the
tiatrists I mentioned in the essay for telling me their
memories of tiatr's Bombay days: Antonette, Betty Ferns,
Betty Naz, Ophelia, Rita Rose, Succorine, Titta Pretto. The
late Prem Kumar's wife, Ramona and the make-up man, Caiti,
too shared their stories with me. I also would like to thank
Gasper D'Souza for capturing nice images of Bombay and
shooting my interviews with the tiatrists. Several students
of the Department of Sociology, Goa University helped me by
transcribing and translating my interviews. Thank you.


Albuquerque, Teresa, 2012, Goan Pioneers in Bombay, Saligao
and Panjim: Goa 1556 and Broadway Publishing House.

Fernandes, André Rafael, 2010, When Curtains Rise…:
Understanding Goa’s Vibrant Theatre, Panaji: Tiatr Academy of
Goa/Goa, 1556.

Fernandes, Naresh, 2012, Taj Mahal Foxtrot: The Story of
Bombay’s Jazz Age, New Delhi: Roli Books.

Hansen Kathryn, 2002, “Parsi Theatre and the City: Locations,
patrons, audiences”, Sarai Reader 2002: The Cities of
Everyday Life, pp. 40-48.

Martins, Reena (comp and ed), 2014, Bomoicar: Stories of
Bombay Goans, 1920-1980, Saligao: Goa 1556 in association
with Golden Heart Emporium.

Mazarello, Wilmix Wilson, 2000, 100 Years of Konkani Tiatro,
Panaji: Government of Goa, Directorate of Art & Culture.

Mehta, Kaiwan, 2009, Alice in Bhuleshwar: Navigating a Mumbai
Neighbourhood, Mumbai: Yoda Press.

Prakash, Gyan, 2010, Mumbai Fables: A History of an Enchanted
City, Princeton: Princeton University Press.

1. I obtained my Ph.D. from Osaka University, Japan in 2006.
I brought out a book in Japanese based on the thesis in
February 2014, which is entitled, Watashitati no kotoba” no
yukue: Indo, Goa shakai niokeru tagengojyokyo no jinruigaku,
in English, it can be translated as The Plight of “Our
Language: Anthropology of the Multilingual Situation in Goa,
India. Further information on the book can be found at

I have published two articles on the language issue of Goa in
English. They can be found at the links provided below.

‘Konkani and ‘Goan Identity’ in Post-colonial Goa, India’,
The Journal of the Japanese Association for South Asian
Studies, vol.14, 2002

‘The Formation of Local Public Spheres in a Multilingual
Society: The Case of Goa, India’, in The Journal of the
Japanese Association for South Asian Studies, vol.17, 2015

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