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Bhaskar Chitrakar infuses modern social atrocities in Patachitra

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Patachitra is one of the rarest ancient art forms of Bengal that depicts a strong narrative along the lines of mythologies and folk tales. These are traditional cloth scrolls with paintings that have been prevalent in Eastern India for centuries. Kalighat Patachitra has a definite style of using a rural story to highlight the socio-political scenario of Bengal. Bhaskar Chitrakar belongs to a family of patuas who has been practicing this art for six generations now. Residing in Kalighat, he has infused a touch of modernity in this ancient form of art and turned it more unique. 

Today, many patua artisans have given up the art of patachitra and opted for greener pastures. But come like Bhaskar Chitrakar could not give up his passion. He wanted to make the patas more contemporary so that they can be popularized. His passion often took him to Government College of Art to have an idea of the modern styles practiced and discussed there. The professors guided him and Bhaskar’s father categorically asked him to stay away from stereotypical religious paintings prevalent in the Patachitra trade. 

He eventually discovered a unique style and over the last decade, he has been incorporating contemporary styles in patachitra which resulted in an interesting combination. There are quintessential themes of modern Kolkata which makes his art relatable and easy to connect. One of the important component is Jazz Cats, which adds an unparalleled dimension to the common Kalighat pata Cats. Bhaskar takes inspiration from newspaper clippings, Mughal paintings, film posters and the people of Kolkata. Things which have surfaced in the 21st-century like mobile phones, cars, synthesizers, selfies and autorickshaws have found place in his patachitra paintings.

Bengal’s babudom, the symbol of oppression of the colonial era has been the constant target of Kalighat patachitra for almost a century. The artists, over the years, have expressed their abhorrence towards the regressive Kolkata babus by making caricatures of them in Kalighat patachitra in a satirical way. Bhaskar Chitrakar has kept this tradition alive by keeping babus in his art but not in the form of mockery. Even in 21st century, Bhaskar’s babus wear dhotis because he is fond of the contrast it creates in today’s backdrop. Bhaskar consciously stays away from politics because according to him, powerful people, today are not comfortable with the idea of being made fun of, be it in any art form. In his paintings, we see Babus getting rejected by ‘No-refusal taxis which is quite a perturbing problem in the city. Another patachitra depicts Shiva in a stand-off with phuchkawalla. 

Another predominant component in Bhaskar’s art is his respect towards women. Chitrakar’s female subjects are larger than the male counterparts which a visual trick used to establish an important thematic point. For ages, women have been portrayed as subordinate entities. But when it comes to Chitrakar’s art, women are prioritized. 

Bhaskar has also experimented with the medium of art. Unlike his predecessors in patachitra, Bhaskar uses Italian fabriano paper instead of cloth scrolls which enables him to bring out vibrant and playful compositions. He has also opted for acrylic water colours. Kalighat has undergone a huge change. The patua community is scattered today. Bhaskar Chitrakar is probably the last of the patuas of his lineage and is striving to offer a new life to the forgotten art form.