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Jatra: Centuries-old Bengali Folk Theatre is in the throes of a fresh Crisis post-Demonetisation

During winter, a mood of festivity pervades rural Bengal and "jatra pala" are organised as people have the money and leisure

Jatra, Wikimedia
Kolkata, December 22, 2016: Jatra, the centuries-old Bengali folk theatre extremely popular in the villages, is in the throes of a fresh crisis post-demonetisation.

With an unprecedented cash crunch that has followed the ban on high-value currency notes, the Jatra organisers and opera owners say the usually peak winter business hasn’t really picked up.

“Jatra has already been struggling for its existence in the last decade. Earlier, a Jatra troupe would perform 250-300 days annually. Now even a super-hit production gets to do 100-120 shows in a year at the most.

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“The cash crunch this year has made the problem even more complex. If people don’t have the money themselves, how would they pay for entertainment,” asked Manjuri Opera director-cum-producer Gautam Chakrabarty.

Jatra, a Bengali brethren of sorts of Tamasha of Maharashtra and Nautanki of Uttar Pradesh, is a travelling theatre characterised by two- to three-hour-long high-octane plays, with loud music, harsh lighting and extravagant props. It is generally played out on grand stages under the open sky.

During winter, a mood of festivity pervades rural Bengal and “jatra pala” (folk theatre shows) are organised as people have the money and leisure for entertainment.

But the scenario has turned bleak this year after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Nov 8 demonetisation announcement.

“In Jatra, payments to artists, barring those of the lead actors, are mostly done in cash. The group owners cannot issue cheques for so many artists after every show. The artists who work on daily payment are facing major issues as they were paid with old Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes that are now worthless,” Chakraborty told IANS.

Raja Dutta, secretary of the Jugabani Club in Midnapore district, rued that for the first time in 40 years, no Jatra shows could be organised in his village.

“People don’t have money in hand even to employ agricultural labour in the field. So many people are out of work. There is gloom everywhere. In such a scenario, they are in no mood to spend money for buying the tickets. So we are not hiring any Jatra group this year,” said Dutta.

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The roots of Jatra can be traced to 16th century Bengal that saw the rise of Sri Chaitanya’s Bhakti movement and the famous form of musical drama called the Carya that was characterised by its distinctive use of language.

For centuries, Jatra successfully communicated mythological, historical and morally educative content to the residents of Bengal, particularly to rural audiences. But with rising production costs and easy availability of other forms of entertainment like television and cinema, the genre has seen a steady decline in the number of spectators.

However, even for those managers who successfully sold their productions until last season, getting a good bargain this year has become difficult. Some are even planning to drop the idea of multiple productions and go ahead with the one that is more economical.

“My company prepared two productions of distinctly different taste this year, as last year we had a successful venture. But now we are planning to drop one of the productions as it has become difficult to sell amid the cash crisis. I remember completing 35 shows by this time last year. This year I have only managed to arrange nine so far,” complained Anandalok Opera production manager Bapi Saha.

“Dropping your own production is tough after so much effort and cost has gone into it. But we had to take the harsh decision of dropping the thriller as it invokes more cost per show, and go with just the contemporary comedy that has a greater appeal among the audiences,” he explained.

Apart from the production cost, a Jatra troupe requires a serious amount of travelling expenses as an entire group of 50-60 people moves around together for different shows. The daily income is mostly met from the ticket sales. As the Jatra enthusiasts are feeling the note ban’s heat, ticket sales have significantly declined.

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“Unlike a film or a theatre, Jatra does not have seat limitations as it is performed in vast grounds. So ticket sales at some shows give us a significant amount of revenue. This year my group hasn’t done a single show that ran houseful,” said Prasanta Saha of Agragami Opera.

Saha, who manages two more operas called Nandi Company and Swarnanjali, is now hoping the season would pick up during the Saraswati Puja festivities in February and the production houses would be able to recover their money.

“The organisers are not booking shows at present for lack of cash. Hopefully, the season will pick up after Swaraswati Puja in February. The problems related to flow of cash would also reduce to some extent by then,” he said. (IANS)

Next Story

Demonetisation, Aadhaar Spurred Digital Payments Growth: RBI

Pointing to a major area for improvement, the study showed that only three per cent of the population in India used the Internet to pay utility bills in 2017

long term impact on Real Estate
Demonetisation aided with RERA and GST will put long term impact on Real Estate. Pixabay.

After the demonetisation of Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes in 2016 pushed digital payments, Aadhaar-enabled electronic know your customer (eKYC) resulted in an exponential growth of such payments in the country, according to a new report by the Reserve Bank of India.

Transactions in which both the payer and the payee use digital modes to send and receive money are referred to as digital or electronic payments.

India recorded an accelerated growth rate of over 50 per cent in the volume of retail electronic payment transactions in the last four years, said the report titled “Benchmarking India’s Payment Systems”.

The growth in 2018-19 was largely due to the steep growth in Unified Payments Interface (UPI), it added.

“In India, the smartphone revolution has seen an explosion in digital payment options, from e-Money to the Unified Payments Interface (UPI) to a combination of the two. After demonetisation, the use of e-Money picked up on a very large scale,” the findings showed.

The digital landscape changed with higher usage of e-Money, UPI, Aadhaar Payments Bridge System (APBS), RuPay, and Bharat Bill Payment System (BBPS), among others.

With 3,459 million e-Money transactions, India was only behind Japan and the US (data on China not available) in 2017 with respect to volume of e-Money transactions, the report said.

The study revealed that over the years, the number of debit and credit cards also increased considerably in India.

Aadhaar Card Reader Logo. Source: Wikimedia

India had 331.60 million and 19.55 million debit and credit cards respectively at the end of 2012. The numbers grew to 861.7 million and 37.49 million respectively at the end of 2017.

By March 31, 2019, the number of debit and credit cards issued were 925 million and 47 million, respectively.

However, the study showed that the cost of digital transactions was a factor inhibiting their growth.

Merchants have to cash out or transfer to their banks accounts at a cost and at times these costs are passed on to the consumer.

“A few countries have tried to regulate costs to ensure that the charges are not usurious, but the jury is still out on whether such a regulation promotes the growth of digital payments. With banks pushing and merchants pulling, it isn’t clear if such caps will discourage the use of cash,” the report added.

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Pointing to a major area for improvement, the study showed that only three per cent of the population in India used the Internet to pay utility bills in 2017.

The report compared the payment ecosystem in India with the systems and usage trends in other major countries such as Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Britain and the US. (IANS)