Jatra: India’s former folk theatre actors struggle to survive

Rabin Kumar Majhi(51yrs) and Anukul Ghosh(63 yrs) posing for a portrait as a newly married couple. Anukul Ghosh used to play female characters in Jatra during 1970-80. Pathra, India.

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Rabin Kumar Majhi (left), 51, and Anukul Ghosh, 63, pose for a portrait as a newly-married couple. Mr Ghosh used to play female characters in Jatra in the 1970s

The popularity of Jatra, a centuries-old travelling theatre tradition in India’s West Bengal state, is in decline. Soumya Sankar Bose photographs former Jatra artists who have been struggling to make ends meet.

This theatre style usually consists of four-hour-long, high-energy plays featuring loud music, harsh lighting and extravagant props played out on giant stages under open skies.

But there has been a steady decline in the number of people who like to watch Jatra, leaving many artists without work.

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Swapan Modal, 63, poses for a portrait in his own studio which he has been running from 2008 after his retirement from Jatra

Mr Bose “was born in an extended family of Jatra actors” and “closely witnessed the private lives of the artists as the industry crumbled”. In the past 18 months, he has photographed former Jatra artists who still don’t mind wearing their costumes and showcasing their skills.

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Kanhai Bangor, 66, is famous for playing vivek (conscience)

Mr Bose said his photographs address “the issue of the dwindling practice of Jatra and highlight former artists’ inability to sustain themselves”.

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Pradip Kumar Pal, 59, was famous for his outstanding portrayal of Sree Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, a popular saint from West Bengal. Mr Pal now runs a shop

Jatra scripts have drawn heavily from Indian mythology.

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Shyamal Kumar Dihidar, 51, used to play a police officer. He now works for the Indian Railways

Mr Bose said his project was aimed at blurring the difference between “the real and the staged” world. “We found creatively engaging ways to photograph the artists and also document their past,” he said.

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Tonu Dey, 73, posing for a portrait as a disabled person. He retired from acting following a heart surgery in 2005

Jatra groups have struggled in recent years because of the easily available entertainment on television and mobile phones.

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