The Former Heroes of Jatra

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 earned a diploma in photography from the Pathshala South Asian Media Institute, Dhaka. His project Full Moon on a Dark Night was awarded the Magnum Foundation's Photography and Social Justice Fellowship in 2017. In 2015, he received the India Foundations for the Arts grant for his project Lets Sing an Old Song.