JATRA
(Folk Theater Of India By Balwant Gargi)

A JATRA actor can be recognized by the way he stands - a tilted tower.  He does not held himself back but throws his weight forward.  Passionate, charged with energy, he explodes into fiery dialogue.  He moves like a tornado in the small arena.  In spite of continuous action, he has a firm grip on the ground.

THE STAGE
A two-and-a-half-foot raised platform sixteen feet square is the stage, the asar.  The orchestra is seated on two ramps, each six inches lower than the platform and running parallel on opposite sides.  On one side are the percussion players with drums, cymbals, and bells.  The other side holds the flutist, violinists, clarinetist, harmonium player, and two trumpeters.  Huge bulbs, fastened to four poles pitched at the four corners of the asar, illuminate the stage and the sweat-soaked faces of the spectators.  The women sit on one side, as in temple gatherings; the men squat on the other three sides.  The boys huddle near the rim of the stage.  Strings of lights run diagonally across the canopied arena.  Here and there are neon tubes throw bluish gleams.

The only property on the stage is a chair.  This can represent a throne, a bench, a log of wood, a prisoner's seat, a tower.  Women going to bathe in a river put their clothes on it, and it becomes the steps of the ghat.  Other properties are brought in and removed by the actors themselves.  If dramatic necessity requires, a stagehand seated among the musicians saunters up the asar, pick up the properties, and disappears. 

A gangway, bordered by short bamboo strips and thin ropes, runs from one corner of the stage to the dressing room, sixty feet away, which is embellished with a silk curtain bearing the name of the company in red and gold script.  Through this gangway the actor enters and exits. At important moments it becomes a part of the acting area.  If the heroine separates from her lover, she walks haltingly down the gangway speaking her last lines.  If a comedian-servant is spurned by his master, he makes his unwilling exit through the gangway, making the audience roar at every step as he whines and gibbers.  The gangway can serve as street, or temple path, or highway.  Marriage parties, funeral processions, and armies march down it.  Standing on this gangway the Vivek, a stage character representing the Conscience, sings out the inner Conscience, sings out the inner conflict of a character and warns him of impending doom.  Theatrically he gives the play another dimension by being on a different spatial level.  His words assume a foreboding note, as if voiced in a dream - a whisper that has a terrifying clarity.

The gangway is in some respects reminiscent of the hanamichi (flower path) of the Kabuki theatre of Japan, a four foot-wide polished wood path, flanked by small lights, that runs from the stage proper through the spectators to the back of the auditorium.  Important entries and exits are made through it.  It is an extension of the rectangular stage and at times serves as another acting area.  At climatic moments the actor stands on it and strikes a pose - a mie - which in film terms would be a close-up.  The Jatra gangway in some ways serves the same function.

Sometimes while the actor is on the gangway, visually and psychologically present, his exit is overlapped by the entry of another actor who immediately becomes engaged in action on the stage.  The overlapping gives the Jatra performance continuity.  The actors do not have to disappear completely in the wings as in Western representational theatre.

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Courtesy & Copyright : Sri Balwant Gargi
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Last updated on : 14 Apr 2002 .
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