For the next couple of days, Carnival revellery will be in full swing across Goa. And, while float parades are a major attraction, the khel continues to be a part of Carnival, albeit not as popular as it was in the past.
In the good old days, khels were performed by groups of artists, mostly from villages in Salcete. They travelled from one city to another, staging shows.
The word ‘khel’ means ‘game, sport or play’. In other areas of the coastal Konkan, khel and khele are words connected with ritual dances, performed by village communities during Hindu festivals, such as Holi. Short plays were performed in cities, and were generally hosted by the well-to-do and tavern owners.
In villages, the first show would be held at the home of the regedor or bhatkar. Fees were paid to the artistes according to the performances. If the artistes were required only to sing, the charges were low, whereas a skit would cost more.
A variety of khels were enacted in Goan villages, mostly during the Carnival days. Certain khels were even performed during Easter and Christmas.
BEHIND THE SCENES
Whenever they travelled, the khel troupe carried metal trunks, containing outfits (needed for shows) as well as other items, such as furniture.
An impromptu stage would be arranged wherein two people held a bedsheet at both ends, and this served as a curtain.
Musical accompaniment was provided by two drums and a trumpet/clarinet. The drummer usually belonged to the (Christian) mahar community.
All the artistes were males. Even a woman's role was played by a man, who would dress up as a woman. A whistle signalled the opening and closing scenes.
The artistes were amateurs and performed satirical and humorous skits and sketches, based on village life as well as dramatization of folk tales and traditional mythological stories. The performers were mostly from the sudhir community.
These khels were unique in that there was no stage, and the artistes travelled from place to place, and even door to door, enacting original plays, dressed in topees and sleeping suits, and swords, hanging from their waist bands.
The sound of a kettle drum beckoned khel lovers from near and far to gather round to watch the shows — free of cost, of course.
Artistes from Betalbatim, Majorda, Curtorim, Sancoale, Shiroda, Chandor to name a few, were participants.
THEMES & EVOLUTION OF KHEL
There was a great deal of obscenity and vulgarity in the social sketches. Since there were many married women in the villages, living away from their husbands (who worked with the merchant navy or abroad), this was the subject of many khels. Due to this, explicit content, extra-marital affairs and other local gossip figured largely in these sketches.
Prominent villagers invited these artistes to perform at their homes for a fee of a few rupees — ranging from fifteen to fifty rupees. Performances lasted around one or two hours, and were divided into four pats (read: parts/episodes). The social sketches were Bhatkar Pat (showing the tussle between the landlord and the tenant); Tarvati Pat (showing the fortunes and misfortunes of sailors); and Konkanyacho Pat (which poked fun at Goans).
The Devcharacho Pat and Raksasa Pat, based on traditional myth and folk tales, were based on mythical demons and giants of lore.
The street khel went through an evolution of sorts, as a result of which, it was eventually taken to the stage, thanks to enthusiastic khel writers. The very first such performance was held by Master Rebello, who put up a small stage in front of his residence, in Benaulim. At Carnival time, he would organise a competition between two well-known khel directors ie A Moraes and Anton Mari. And thus, the ground khel reached the stage for the first time. At this new stage khel, there were neither sets nor curtains, and people would gather around the stage and watch the performances.
During Carnival, the khel is still performed on the streets and in villages, especially in Salcete, where troupes practice months in advance. They travel from ward to ward or village to village to deliver performances. These khels were very popular until the late sixties, but are no longer seen in cities.