Prabhat Kumar Das

Bengali Language Initiative

Grant Period: Over two years

Jatra is a performance form developed in the second half of the 19th century, though its popularity saw an abrupt rise in the first three decades of the 20th. As its appeal spread to rural Bengal in the 1970s, many eminent theatre actors/directors like Utpal Dutta and Basanta Chaudhury began to participate in Jatras. More recently, popular actors from Bengali films and television channels have taken to performing in Jatras. Over the last 20 years, Mr Das has been painstakingly collecting scripts, posters, newspaper reports, advertisements, pamphlets and photographs pertaining to Jatra, and currently has over 5,000 documents in his personal collection. He has also interviewed many eminent performers and production personnel. Mr Das, who retired recently from the position of the Head of Publication, Rabindra Bharati University, has published 13 books in Bengali on performance cultures in Bengal, and has also served as an editor for Paschimbanga Bangla Academy publications and the Bangiya Sahitya Parishad Patrika. 

Mr Das intends to write a factual and chronological history of Jatra (1900-2006) in Bengali in order to open up the popular performing tradition for more nuanced future research. Some of the major themes he will tackle in the book are the history of the publication of playscripts; the emergence of repertories with special techniques, adaptations and innovations in performance; the production context of the plays; biographies of palakars (playwrights) and actors; the role of songwriters and composers (since Jatra is heavily dependent on music); a history of reviews and other writing on Jatra published in newspapers and magazines; publicity for performances; and audience reception in both metropolitan and non-metropolitan Bengal. Though he will be focusing on both rural and urban Bengal, Mr Das is particularly interested in the evolution of taste and audience response in non-metropolitan areas.

His priceless collection of documents will be digitised under the supervision of the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences Calcutta (CSSSC) to ensure adherence to internationally accepted protocols on archiving and documentation. The digitised collection will also become part of the CSSSC archive. This grant will support the digitisation of his personal collection and additional research and documentation leading to the preparation of his manuscript for publication. Thema, a Kolkata-based publisher, known for bringing out well-produced scholarly books in the arts, has shown interest in Mr Das’s book. The renowned theatre and film scholar, Samik Bandopadhyay, who is closely associated with Thema, will be his mentor on the project. He will closely monitor the writing of the book and has shown interest in translating the book into English for a larger readership.

Mr Das is also keen to mount an exhibition on the history of Jatra, and CSSSC will collaborate with him to plan and execute the exhibition as a dissemination project. The hope is that the book, the archive of visuals and documents, and the proposed exhibition will generate public awareness about an oft neglected and much maligned popular performing form like Jatra

This grant was made possible with support from Kantic Dasgupta.