COVID Impact: ‘Jatra’ Artists Forced To Perform On A Different Stage, Streetside

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Bhubaneswar: Thousands of people have lost their jobs and livelihood during lockdown in the wake of COVID-19 pandemic. Some have been left devastated, while others have tried to turn things around in a desperate bid to sustain themselves and their families.

Take the case of two popular ‘jatra’ (moving theatre) artists, for instance. Out of work since March, they have been selling tea, biscuits, cakes, mushroom and cooked food on the streetside of capital city.

“It’s difficult for us to survive. All our savings are gone, so we have to go out and do small business like this. We did not have too much money to invest. Give back us our ‘manch’ (stage), we don’t need anything else,” says jatra artist Anita Biswas.

Popular opera artist Anita and her friend Urmila Satpathy have been selling eatables and masks in front of Rasulgarh police station.

Anita and Urmila were popular jatra performers, who attracted and entertained crowds with their acting skills on stage. The pandemic has pushed them to a different stage, in the role of small vendors.

The ‘jatra’ industry has been completely closed due to COVID-19.

“We don’t have any work for the last eight months. Our savings has also finished. We were thinking that the ‘jatra’ industry will reopen during Durga Puja, but that did not happen. With no other option, I borrowed Rs 12,000 from my friends and started this small shop in October,” says Anita.

“I have helped some of my artist friends financially, though the amount was small. Some of my artist friends have gone outside Odisha in search of work,” she adds.

“Initially we were selling cake, biscuits and water bottles but didn’t get any profit. We did not even cover get transportation cost. Then I contacted one of my artist colleagues, Suresh Chandra Sahoo who sells mushroom. He helped us get mushroom to sell in our shop. We are trying to expand our business by selling cooked food now,” informs Anita.

Anita got a lot of praise for her performance in ‘Urvasi’.

Among other jatras she has performed in include ‘To Khusi Re Mo Khusi’, ‘Luha Ku Pachara Aakhi Ra Katha,’ ‘Gupta Samparka’.

“I have performed in more than 1,000 jatras in the last 30 years. I have also acted in Odia movies like ‘Pathara Khasuchi Bada Deula Ru,’ ‘Sabitri’, ‘Paradesi Chadhei’ in comedy characters,” said Anita.

Like Anita, Urmi is a very talented actor, and especially excels in playing role of the devil.

“We never imagined that one day we would have to sit on the streets and sell these items,” both artists lament.

Anita lives with her family near Shikharchandi and Urmi at Sishupalgarh.

Apart from Anita and Urmila, who live in Shikharchandi and Sishupalgarh, respectively, the coronavirus crisis has forced many other jatra artists to seek different ways of earning.

Kandhei sells pickle and badi, while Sudharani Panda sells different spices from her home.

A few months ago, popular jatra artist Pratibha Maharana, better known as ‘Rinky’ among her audience, ran a fruit vending shop in Kalinga Nagar.

“I can understand the situation. If I work somewhere among any gathering, I can be infected with the virus,” Anita fears.

She signs off with a fervent plea to the state government to open the theatres with strict COVID guidelines, so that the lives of jatra artists can get back on track.

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