A high-velocity and boisterous Bengali folk opera, Jatra started many centuries ago as an offshoot of the Bhakti movement, and reached its peak during the 1960s and 1970s. During the initial days, it grew into a satirical account of the oppression under the British rule, and soon assumed the role of a tool of protest. And there lies the beauty of Jatra. Through its vibrant storytelling it captures imaginations while delivering the message with astounding impact and punch.
Jatra unfolds on a raised stage surrounded by the audience. There are never any props except for a chair or two. The hours long performances are accompanied with a full-powered orchestra especially on the horns, strings, wind and percussion instruments.
There was a time when Jatra travelling troupes would leave entire villages in Bengal enthralled and enraptured with their performances. And their dramatic interpretations of religious myths and socio-political stories received adulation all over Bengal. The zamindars would invite troupes to perform during festivals and ceremonies. Jatra actors were the celebrities of their times and unfortunately, today, they are a forgotten lot.
From the hundreds of Jatra troupes sprinkled across Bengal during the nineties, only a few remain now to represent the art. As cinema and television grew, Jatra’s slow but steady decline began. Most of the celebrated Jatra performers gave up their passions for other gigs. Some became ferry operators, and a few others photo studio owners. All that was left of Jatra for them was the memories of past glory and fame.