Inside The Lonely World Of A Former Jatra Artist In Bengali Folk Theatre

Inside The Lonely World Of A Former Jatra Artist In Bengali Folk Theatre

After the lights fade out and the crowd dissolves and there is no one to watch, we see the person behind the act; the artist without the makeup and elaborate costume; a person trying to be and exist in a society that confines you to boxes and labels.

For Naveen Kishore — a theatre practitioner by heart and the founder and managing director of Seagull Books in Kolkata (which began primarily as a response to the growing need for an Indian publishing house for theatre and other arts), the story of Chapal Bhaduri also known as Chapal Rani or Queen Chapal, the leading lady of Jatra, Bengal’s traditional folk travelling theatre, was one that needed to be told.

Having spent his life playing women, women themselves eventually started playing those characters. This forced the ageing star to turn away from the only life he had known and to take on the new persona of Sitala, the dreaded goddess of pox and disease in dramatized versions of the goddess’s sagas. The intimate video biography, Performing the Goddess (1999) brings the audience face to face with a unique individual.

In the rather honest and personal video essay, Bhaduri opens up about what it means to become a woman night after night, talking for the first time about the woman inside his male body, of a troubled sexuality, of a long domestic partnership with his older lover, of the essential loneliness of living as a human being on the edges of conventional society –and showing how he metamorphoses into the goddess in order to perform her story.

Through the in-depth interviews, the makeup process that metamorphoses a man to a woman to a goddess extracts from milestone fragments of jatra plays and through the documentation of Chapal Bhaduri’s performance of the goddess. The audience is provided a rare entry into the artist’s unusual world, covering both his work and life. In the process we are also confronted with the fascinating history of the jatra and its performers and the loneliness and melancholy of being an unconventional artist.

This story was first seen on Indigenous.

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