Bombay Showcase

A night at the tiatr

Few aside from Goans and seriously impassioned theatre-goers in Mumbai are likely to have attended a tiatr. Or even know what it is. The Konkani musical is from Goa and tiatr troupes occasionally perform in Mumbai, the most famous being the group helmed by the legendary Prince Jacob.

A sense of tiatr can be found in director Sunil Shanbag’s latest play, Loretta . A sort of contemporary tiatr, it’s in English and therefore, more accessible. Written by Konkani writer Pundalik Naik, Loretta is the second play of this season of Aadyam, the Aditya Birla Group-sponsored annual festival of drama.

It’s a simple comedy that gently stirs the debate around linguistic and cultural identity that has preoccupied Goans for decades. Rafael (Saattvic) and his Anglo-Indian girlfriend Loretta (Rozzlin Pereira), who live in Mumbai, visit his father Antonio Piedade Moraes (Abhijit Bhor), the landlord of an island in Goa. There are unsettled scores between father and son. Antonio doesn’t understand why Rafael would want to live away from his homeland. Rafael feels Antonio has been less of a father and more a patriarch. He’s frustrated by Antonio’s dogged resistance to any kind of change, even one that would benefit people on the island, namely a much-needed bridge connecting it to the mainland. Antonio wants no outsiders settling on his island.

Loretta instantly falls for Goa and sees her future there. She can stay but only on the condition that Antonio lays down: that she learns Konkani in three months. She proceeds to do this with the help of the driver Caitu (Danish Husain), fishmonger (Shilpa Sane), baker (Shailesh Hejmade) and toddy tapper (Kailash Waghmare), all of whom supply the play with much comedy. There’s music too. Composer Ronnie Monsorate, who did the music for Bardoy Barretto’s well-regarded 2014 movie Nachom-ia Kumpasar has done the arrangements of the songs sung by the actors.

Shanbag said he was fascinated with tiatr since the time he was a college kid in Mumbai in the 1970s. Around two years ago, his interest in tiatr was renewed when he watched one in Goa. “What fascinated me were the side shows,” he said. “They were pretty strong.”

Tiatr is typically flecked with a number of sketches that have little to do with the main play. Shanbag found that since theatre in uncensored in Goa (Maharashtra is the only State in India to censor drama); the side shows were sharp critiques of the government. One of the reasons he wanted to tinker with the form was that the “possibilities the side shows offer seemed exciting. You can put the play on pause, go somewhere else and come right back. That’s also so wonderfully Goan. You can take a detour. There’s no hurry to get anywhere.”

However, Pundalik Naik is not a tiatr writer. This suited Shanbag just fine for tiatr tends to be of the commercial variety: “It was important to get a non-tiatr writer but one who was known for a preoccupation with larger ideas like language, identity.”

The character of Antonio is a nod to the longstanding Goan debate over whether Marathi is as much of a Goan language as is Konkani and, in a broader sense, to the question of what it means to be Goan. Antonio’s mild xenophobia and evangelical passion for Konkani can also be viewed as a subtle shadow of the Shiv Sena’s more virulent form of linguistic politics. His counterpoint is Caitu, Antonio’s cheeky driver, played terrifically by Danish Husain. He’s as fond of Konkani as his employer but less hung up about what qualifications it takes to be Goan.

“In Goa, the language debate is very strong,” Shanbag said. “So I was not surprised when Pundalik suggested language be the issue. The challenge was how to make it a metaphor so that it’s not just about Konkani.” Shanbag tackled the challenge with a suite of uproarious side shows.

Singer and actor Asif Ali Beg, who also plays a politician in the main drama, has written one musical side show and performs in most of them. The rest have been written by lyricist and screenwriter Varun Grover. The commentary in the main drama is benign compared to the scathing and hilarious attack against the current government’s actions in the side shows.

Husain, Beg and Shanbag himself (clad in a devilish red suit in one sketch) take digs at everything from censorship to the state’s majoritarian agenda. Shanbag said he found Grover to be the perfect candidate for the job after watching Aisi Taisi Democracy , a stand-up routine in which he, comedian Sanjay Rajoura and musician Rahul Ram rip apart everything, particularly the BJP government. “We’re trying to talk about things that are important and truthful,” Shanbag said.

Lorettawill be staged on April 8 and April 9 at St Andrew’s Auditorium, St Dominic Road, Bandra (West). Tel: 022 26401657.


Pronoti Datta is co-founder/editor of The Daily Pao

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Printable version | May 20, 2022 7:44:30 am |