The stage is set, the performers are in character and the murmur of the anxious crowd for the grand performance can be heard till backstage.
Lights (Check ✓)
Costumes (Check ✓)
Script (Check ✓)
Heart pounding like it will explode (Check ✓)
The curtains roll up and it is time for the show to begin!
Welcome to the ancient-most form of entertainment in the world, the Jatra!
Wait a minute, what’s Jatra?
With a name that translates to “journey,” Jatra’s traveling troupes traditionally entertain viewers with lively performances based on Hindu epics, mythologies, folklores and popular tales. These are dramatically performed on small, open-air stages accompanied by live music. Though Jatra lacks the reach of mainstream broadcast entertainment, many Jatra actors nevertheless emerge as celebrities, known for their specialty roles and are able to earn a good living.
Around the 1970s, as TV and films gradually started claiming more share of the viewer’s attention and money, Jatra Theater began to dwindle.
What is interesting to note though is that there is still a lane in rustic Kolkata which is still breathing life into this dying art form.
The Colorful By-Lane – Jatra Para
Jatra Para, whose history holds in its womb thousands of stories of ages untold, brings forth a tale of live folk art even today. In hiding for the last 100 years or more, anyone who has anything to do with the lane in Chitpur has countless stories to tell. But interestingly, how and when Chitpur became the base camp of this art is still a mystery. When asked, the locals as well the Jatra company employees are hardly aware of the exact history of the place. They have disputed opinions regarding the establishment of the gully. Some believe that the Kolkata Jatra Para formed here around the time of the theatre revolution in Bengal and other Indian states. Whereas some say it was an added flavor of entertainment from the Zamindari period, which was for the personal amusement of the Zamindars.
The street filled with posters featuring exaggerated expressions on loudly decked-up faces, is a home of more than thirty Jatra companies of Kolkata. Of which, most of the companies are run by families and their newer generations.
The notables Jatra here are Tapaban Natya Company, Thakur Natya Company, Muktamanjuri and Jatra Lok.
Not only unknown artists, but many celebrated Tollywood actors like Biswajit Chakrabarty, Satabdi Roy, Chiranjit, Abhisek and Rupa Ganguly are associated directly to Jatra and to this Para. When asked about the reason behind the number of celebrities working in this dying industry, a surprising answer came from Tanmay Maity an employee of Star Troop, “Ora toh oder cinemar theke ekhane paisa beshi paye”(Jatra performances assure more income than cinema or theatre for known and popular artists). But in the same light, veterans and newbies are struggling alike with wages as low as Rs50 per show. According to an employee of Tapoban Company, there are hardly any Jatra shows in Kolkata anymore.
The Buck Stops at Kolkata Jatra Para
In an era, when there were no other means of entertainment in Bengal, Jatra evolved. Though this form of folk art is a dying art form but it still exists due to their huge craze in rural regions. The season runs from Durga Puja till Jagat-Dhatri Puja. During Basanta Utsav Jatra makes its maximum business. Chitpur is currently the only place in Kolkata where Jatra companies still exist. This lane associates the lives of more than thousands of people from Kolkata and from other rural parts of the state. Maximum numbers of shows are call shows from rural regions of West Bengal. Moreover, with no support from the government, it is simply their determination and strong belief in the art form that keeps the old theatre companies of Kolkata alive.
How to reach Kolkata Jatra Para?
Going with the flow of one of the many by-lanes of north Kolkata, located just outside the Girish Park metro station you can straight walk into a world of colorful hoardings and banners. The second by-lane on the left from the metro station; it is Bidon Street which leads you to Chitpur more commonly known as the Kolkata Jatra Para.