The Former Heroes of Jatra

Pathra: Rabin Kumar Majhi (51) and Anukul Ghosh (63) pose as a newly married couple. Ghosh used to play female characters in the 1970s and 1980s. He has now retired from Jatra. ©Soumya Sankar Bose. Jatra Series / Image courtesy Goa Photo
01 February, 2015

Jatra, the folk theatre form once popular in eastern India, dates back to the sixteenth century. It combined a melodramatic style of acting with popular music that was played before the play commenced to attract a crowd, and then interspersed liberally within the play along with dance numbers. Performances in this form tended to run for nearly four hours, and took place on makeshift wooden platforms without barriers between the audience and the performers. Like film actors of today, Jatra performers had large fan bases too.

The advent of cinema halls and television in the area in the 1960s and 1970s gradually extinguished interest in this performance art. Photographer Soumya Sankar Bose’s uncle was a Jatra actor who had to take up employment at a railway factory as interest in his form continued to wane. This prompted Bose to begin his ongoing Jatra series, which features his uncle’s former cast mates and offers a rare glimpse into the form and its once gigantic figures.

Soumya Sankar Bose's Yatra series will be on display at the upcoming Goa Photo festival (

Soumya Sankar Bose is a photographer represented by Experimenter Gallery. He has previously received grants from Magnum Foundation, India Foundation for the Arts, and Goethe Institut, among others. He lives and works in Kolkata.