Silenced Theatre
Better Photography|July 2021
A quietly disappearing form of theatre, artistes who have voiced myriads of characters, but now have few spectators, homes and settings that reflect an India that can now only be found in Satyajit Ray stories. Soumya Sankar Bose explores these and much more.
Soumya Sankar Bose, Ambarin Afsar

Sima Bose used to a famous Jatra artist in the 1960s and 70s. For the last ten years, however, she has been suffering from arthritis and cannot leave her bed. Kolkata, West Bengal.

Soumya Sankar Bose is a documentary photographer. He was gifted his first camera, a Kodak KB10, when he was 11 years old, at a local festival. He started shooting because he wanted to make portraits of his favourite people, such as his grandparents and his uncles and aunts. This desire to preserve the memories of certain people forms the foundation of his current body of work. His new book, Let's Sing an Old Song, will be published soon with the help of the India Foundation for the Arts grant.

Jatra, a once-famous form of folk theatre from Bengal, employing dialogue, monologue, songs and instrumental music to tell stories, has gradually slipped away from public memory. History and technology played their own parts in the diminishing of a centuries-old art form. The partition and consequent formation of East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), led to a kind of Jatra that did not have Hindu folk tales, while on the Indian side of the border, actors stopped playing Muslim characters. Television and cinema drew people away from the streets and closeted them in their homes. And so, Jatra companies grew smaller and smaller. In 2001, there were 300 companies who, while employing over 20,000 people, were forced to often offer free performances.

Dulal Addya, 66, poses as Girish Chandra Ghosh, the father of Bengali theatre. Barobazar, Kolkata.

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