Khell Tiatr – A unique aspect of the Goan Carnival
Khell tiatr is a very popular form of drama in South Goa and during the Carnival festivities, each village has its own unique show. Though these plays do not share the same boisterous fanfare of the main Carnival celebrations, they are still enjoyed by these villagers in their quaint little settings
During the last few days, while most people were enjoying the Carnival festivities at the float parades and parties, a motley group of nostalgic Goans gathered at Manora-Raia, to enjoy traditional khell tiatrs. This, in fact, was the scene across most of the villages in South Goa. “We youngsters like the modern carnival floats, but it is quite endearing to see how these traditions showcase Goa’s culture and identity. I have watched khell tiatrs before and I am in awe of the artistes who perform so confidently on the ground, surrounded by the audience, with no stage, no curtains, only accompanied by a brass band. They are so entertaining. We must definitely preserve this art for posterity,” says Prinoy D Costa from Cansaulim.
“Khell tiatrs are held every year during Carnival and Easter and are performed in public spaces, sometimes on private properties that have space to accommodate a large gathering,” informs John Fernandes from Navelim. Though held without much fanfare or propagation, these plays take place quite regularly, that too with full audience from the villagers of that area. But there was a time when khell tiatrs reigned supreme. “The Carnival of yore was a riot of colours, fun and revelry, and the khell was the soul of the celebration. A troupe of hand-picked actors and musicians would hold several rehearsals before taking to the streets to perform. Every khell troupe had to perform at least one or two parteos (plays) for free in the compound of the regedor – the headman of the village – and people would flock to see the show,” a tiatr director explains. Lourenco Trindade Fernandes from Utorda clearly remembers this practice during Carnival time in his childhood. He adds that khell tiatrs were compulsorily first staged in the front yard of the regedor and while commoners would watch the performance standing in the streets, old families would watch from the balcao of their palatial homes. In those days, when public transport was not really a thing, the performing troupes would walk to the neighbouring villages and their families would accompany them to cook for them during their three-day travels. The troupes moved from village to village on foot, with the lilting music of the brass band and wind instruments.
Khell tiatr fans say that the village bhatkar, with his aristocratic and domineering ways, was often mocked and ridiculed in the plays. Different types of themes, social and otherwise, formed the crux of the street entertainment. There used to be one part called raksa parte, which involved a monster (a masked man who did weird deeds) who was usually always killed in the end. The people cried and cheered in entertainment. “A few characters became immortal in khell folklore; these included Battagotto (grain of boiled rice), Coli (tin) Shalibai, (a male playing a female role) and many more,” says an avid tiatr lover from Carmona. “The actors were simple people and some of them could not even write. But you cannot compare those scripts with the ones we have today. Those scripts were so rich,” adds another villager. Before tiatr was born, the Goan masses were entertained by folk dramatic forms, namely zagor and khell. Zagor was popular in North Goa, whereas khell, which was also known as fell, was popular in the south. Dionisio Sardinha, one of the active organisers (of Zominvoile khell) from Curtorim, says that when Carnival approaches, he feels good because it is an ideal time to promote and hence preserve Zominvoile Khell traditions. He feels that the Carnivals of yore were more natural, with the brass band, etc and these traditions should be incorporated into the Carnival of today. “Earlier, all the artistes used to perform to show their art/performance,” he adds. Philip De Orlim, a director of folk plays, believes that maintaining these traditions would go a long way in promoting the Konkani language. Most of the villagers who attend these tiatrs point out that these khell tiatrs, while take a satirical tone of present trends, do leave the audience with that feel good feeling and have social value messages. Folk play director Salvador Afonso says that in his 37 years of presenting folk plays, the topics he has chosen have revolved around Jesus Christ, the Lenten season, values for a good life, etc.
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