Folk Theatre: Jatra
Jatra is a brand of popular plays with characters and plots plucked from the Indian epics Ramayan and Mahabharat. The vast majority of villagers, behind in literacy, was not able to read the epics (written in Sanskrit later translated in Bengali) themselves. Jatra filled the void by bringing to the masses the stories and episodes from the greatest literary works the mankind had ever undertaken. Acts and scenes from these epics reconditioned with songs, sung in the folk tunes, were masterfully crafted and presented to the folks in a simple yet gorgeous manner. Millions of hearts and souls were filled with enjoyment and emotions latent with religious acceptedness. Days and nights of jatra plays during and after hindu pujas (religious occasions in which one or more gods and goddesses is/are worshiped) used to be common occurences. Audiences included not only hindus, but every cast creed of the society regardless of religion or denomination.
Actors (actresses are a new addition in the post-war period; before that male players usually with imaginative makeups performed female roles). took great pride in their craftmanship. Some were respected by villagers as real kings, ministers and generals - typecasting actors in the roles they normaly played in the popular drama.
Regrettably, in the post-war period, in common with many folkloric traditions, this magnificent craft was facing extinction. Radio and telivision era was about to condemn it to oblivion along with its modern counterpart - the upmarket theatre industy. Recent experimentation by some theatre enthusiasts has revived the dying Calcutta theatrical industry by adopting a jatra style of performance. Such is the vigorous and pervading influence of the jatra adaptations on the Bengali audience. Jatra is regaining its unique mantel again as a branch of successful performing art in Bengal.