Abritto – Objectifying the position of Theatre amid Jatra and Television Soap

Posted by Kaahon Desk On October 24, 2019

One of the most ancient entertainment mediums of Bengali folk culture with a rich heritage is Jatra Pala.  From the old times, Jatra has not only ruled the hearts of the rural mass but has also played a significant role in structuring and developing their lives along with understanding and practicing their psychology. Therefore, the importance and popularity of this medium is unquestionable. There is much more demand for social palas than historical and mythological ones. The combined music of the clarinet, cornet and flute created a special trance-like ambience. People travelled great distances just to watch their favourite actors perform all night at the Jatra gathering. Due to the emergence of other entertainment mediums, Jatra has lost its nobility now. Perishing gradually each day, the medium has now become an almost extinct art form. What is currently being produced today in the name of Jatra is nothing but a cheap package of entertainment. The main ingredients of Jatra are not even present in it. The reason for speaking so much about Jatra is Nandipat’s latest production ‘Abritto’. The play revolves around the struggle of four people, who are associated with Jatra, to survive co-dependently and establish their self-respect. The play has been written by Tirthankar Chanda and directed by Prokash Bhattacharya. It was staged on 17th October, 2019 at Girish Mancha.

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In the current restless and fast paced life, all of us are running after money and fame. We remain confined within our own comfort zones and fail to look at the larger social picture. Our ancient cultural entertainment mediums that carry our rich heritage are losing their nobility and importance. New kinds of mediums of entertainment are now gaining popularity and taking their place in people’s lives. We must always welcome new things but not by forgetting or denying the old ones. A historically and culturally rich genre like Jatra has lost its popularity today and in place of that, television serials belonging to the smaller medium of entertainment have become popular among the people. Amongst all this, do we remember the popular and dedicated actors of Jatra who are now spending their days in utter poverty?

Popular Jatra actor Tarak Pal spends his days recollecting old memories while facing the utterly harsh reality. With immense love for Jatra, his daughters Rajlakshmi, Umashashi and son Kartik try to overcome all the hurdles of poverty, keeping in mind their father’s ideal because the vibrance of Jatra continuously runs in their blood. Kartik proposes to a director of mega serials, Swapan Mukhopadhyay to work on Tarak Pal’s life, which will be a significant documentary on the neglected art form of Jatra in the present time. Not only does Kartik want to spread the word of Jatra to the mass through his father’s life story but also wants to make an income out of it for his family so as to live comfortably. As Mukhopadhyay starts his work, he discovers Rajlakshmi’s stunning voice. He starts calculating the commercial success he could get if he uses Rajlakshmi’s singing talent in his upcoming television serial. Mukhopadhyay tempts her with a huge amount of money and the work of shooting the documentary becomes secondary. A kind of neglect is noticed, even by Kartik and the others, in Mukhopadhyay’s attitude towards Tarak Pal and the Jatra art form. In the middle of the shooting, Rajlakshmi’s revolting spirit comes alive. Pushing away every temptation, she announces her refusal to compromise with her self-respect.

Avoiding any kind of experimentation while making the play, the director has presented the story to the audience with a simple and clear vision. A prominent dividing line has been drawn between Jatra and mega serials which brings out the underlying values of both the worlds. The set design (by Sandip Suman Bhattacharya) consisting of a multi-storey building beside an old crumbling house is very contextual and symbolic of the two entertainment mediums. The playwright Tirthankar Chanda and director Prakash Bhattacharya together have tried to pass on the pride, past history, characteristics and emotions connected to Jatra to the audience of the current generation through this play ‘Abritta’ by Nandipat. Rabindranath Thakur has successfully used various ingredients of Jatra in his plays. His writings have often reflected upon the qualities and properties of the medium. One must never forget the notable contribution of Jatra (swadeshi Jatra) during the freedom movement. Many known theatre personalities of the past and the present have tried to experiment with Jatra in their work. This has made us realize its importance in the social and political realms.

The past of Jatra and of their lives are being pictured through Tarak Pal’s recollecting of memories and Rajlakshmi and Kartik’s lengthy monologues. Sanchita, who plays the character of Rajlakshmi, has effortlessly delivered her monologue through voice and physical acting, complementing it with a beautiful blend of dance and music. Not only did the audience find it enjoyable but also felt a unique blow. Abhijit Sarkar has skillfully tried to bring out the character of Kartik in its proper essence although sometimes the influence of a popular present-day theatre actor could be noticed in his acting style. If he could shed that burden, his character would become sprightlier. In contrast to Rajlakshmi’s monologue, Kartik’s seems to be a little bland. Due to lack of variations, the monologue seems like an obligation to deliver information. It seems a bit lengthy; may be it could’ve been presented in a better way if it were divided into two separate segments. Since the subject of the play is Jatra, the acting style had to be slightly overdramatic. As a result, the sequences of Tarak Pal’s (played by Biplab Naha Biswas) acting during his Jatra days don’t offer anything more overdramatic than the rest of the play. But this has a plus point too – it clearly establishes that Pal’s life is surrounded by the essence of Jatra all the time.

Jera – Imitation of foreign movie on stage; lacks the credibility factorA special nostalgia of Jatra has been reflected by the sound (by Swapan Bandyopadhyay) and the music (by Triguna Shankar). For most of the play, the use of low light has symbolized the lack of shine in the world of Jatra today. Therefore, it was able to create the mood of the play perfectly. The low light has also helped in forming the ambience during the Jatra sequences. The music had a fine feel of Jatra that blended with the subject of the play and aided in moving the play forward.

In plays by Tirthankar Chanda, we find the characters struggling to survive and establish their rights. The same thing happens in this play where his emotions and responsibility towards Jatra find expression. Director Prakash Bhattacharya and his group Nandipat have tried to attract and shift the focus of the audience to the neglected art form of Jatra and create a space for thought about the genre. Only time would be able to tell how this play has influenced its audience. The playwright, the director and the whole group deserve whole-hearted praise for this production.

Pradip Datta
A post-graduation diploma holder of the Department of Media Studies, University of Calcutta, he has been a theatre activist in Bengal for the last twenty five years. He is a freelance journalist by profession. Besides theatre, his passion includes recitation, audio plays and many more.

Translation- Kankabati Banerjee

Read this review in Bengali.

বাংলাতে পড়তে ক্লিক করুন।

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