Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Where has the "Jatra" gone?

Till about 15 -20 years back, various Jatra or performing drama troupes would descend on the capital to perform during the Durga Puja. The word "Jatra" itself means a journey, and the troupe members would be on the road in various parts of the country, for most of the year, except for the harvesting season, when they returned to base, presumably somewhere in West Bengal.

 Most of the stories they told would be based on mythology, the epics, or folk tales. The stories would cover legendary kings, gods and goddesses (specially Ma Durga, Kali, Chandi, Ma Manasha), and characters from the puranas. The performance typically started late evening, and could go on for 3-4 hours, stopping just before day-break.

Over time, the Jatra started covering whatever was current in national politics, the literature of the times including love stories (stories from Bankimchandra and Tagore), stories about royalty, and they also made comments on social changes that were taking place.

The clothes, script, dialogue delivery, the posters used for Jatra were all stylized and over-dramatic. The music was semi-classical raga-based or based on well known folk tunes and rhythms. Instruments were usually, dholak, pakhawaj, harmonium, flute and behala (the local violin), tabla, cymbals and trumpets. Songs had to be sung by the actors themselves.

Since the performance was on a stage open on all sides, with practically no sets, and humans sang, or had monologues and dialogues coming in from all sides, there was much commenting, accompanying and merriment in the crowd, which sat on all sides of the stage.

There was another special feature about a Jatra. Apart from a commentator or Sutradhar who strung together various poems, side stories, and dances to the plot, there were a few special characters in a Jatra performance: A figure called Bibek or Conscience would come in at any juncture, pose questions to the audience, give his philosophical perspective, and also discuss future scenarios. Another character called Niyoti or Fate, usually played by a female, would comment on, or foretell the role of time and destiny. There was also sometimes a special actor called Bahurupi (or the one with multiple forms), who true to his name, could take on all sorts of different persona!

I wonder where the Jatra has gone in the days of TV and the internet. I do hope it gets revived and it could then possibly get telecast from a huge arena, with live twitter and messages coming in just like the big games!

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