Bengali TV Serials Sound Death Knell for Ancient Art Form

RBN Web Desk: While Bengali TV serials have become immensely popular over the years, it has forged an end of sorts to various heritage art forms in the state that were once the entertainment fodder for the masses. Jatra, undeniably, has been one of the worst victims.

The fact came into light once again at the jatra festival at Panchkuri village in Paschim Medinipur, organised by the district cultural affairs department. The festival began on 5 January with a jatra being staged every night along with other cultural programmes. Crowds start to thin barely 30-40 minutes into a jatra performance, the timing of which coincides with the telecast of several popular Bengali TV serials.

People from the audience said that the TV serials were far more entertaining than the jatra shows. Gopal Bhar and Bhojo Gobindo topped their list. Some said, they would return to the jatra, after the serials are over.

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Former jatra superstar Bimalendu Bhattacharya, while praising various government initiatives to revive the ancient Bengal art from, admitted that Bengali TV serials are a major reason behind the dwindling popularity of jatra. More constructive action is necessary, he added.

The origin of Jatra, a form of folk theatre, is rooted in the rise of the Vaishnava movement in 16th century Bengal.

Jatra shows have been immensely popular across the state, especially between the sixties and eighties, when the rural belt had limited access to other forms of entertainment. As satellite TV made inroads in the village areas since the early nineties, jatra became less popular.  Jatra companies opened multiple groups to generate more income. They roped in film and TV actors to perform on stage, which probably became more damaging than beneficial, since people were not eager to see the same faces they regularly watched on the small screen.

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Panchkuri resident Arati Dey recalled the heydays of jatra when shows from several groups were held in the winter. People used to hire buses to come and watch the shows, and village youths volunteered to manage the crowd, she said.

Jatras were once hugely popular in the state’s industrial belts of Durgapur, Asansol, Chittaranjan, and elsewhere. But the advent of Bengali TV serials, and the rivalry between the groups to outsmart each other with cheap production ethos, sounded the death knell for the medium.

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