'I knew I had to work on this project when my uncle retired from the Jatra and joined a railway factory, hoping to do what he could not as an artist - to earn a living. I began photographing artists who are now unemployed but were once gigantic figures of the Jatra.
Dating back to 16th century, the Jatra is a famous folk theatre form of Bengal, employing dialogue, monologue, songs and instrumental music to tell stories. Jatra pala as the plays are called, and are enacted on wooden stages without any barriers between the actors and the audience, facilitating direct communication. The plots vary from India mythology and historical incident to something more contemporary and based on social issues.
The partition of India had a major impact on Jatra as artistes in the newly formed East-Pakistan (later Bangladesh), a Muslim majority country, discontinued to enact Hindu religious folktales such as Krishna lila, Devi thakurani, kongso bodh, kaliadaman etc. On the other side of the border, artistes in West Bengal stopped playing Muslim characters such as Siraj-ud-dullah,Shah jahan, Akbar etc. The advent of cinema and TV in the 60s and 70s blew a deadly blow to the theatre art form. In 2013, over 600 Jatra companies employ over 2,00,000 people but their situation has come to forcing them to often offer free performances.
This work is based mainly on the Jatra artists, characters played by them and the psychology that drives them to be a part of this folk cult form. It is of extreme importance for me to go to the artists, know of their mental status, the way they perceive society, the way the society perceives them and also to hear from them the stories of their lives through events, narrations and anecdotes of their daily lives on and off stage. I have sought to focus on the same through this project.
Helped by my uncle, I peeped into the daily lives of these artistes for last few years and tried to get a trip to the past of the Jatra Ashor with them for briefest glimpses.'
_—_Soumya Sankar Bose
Press release courtesy Experimenter.
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