The novel coronavirus has prompted a novel response from three rival Durga Puja organisers in a south Kolkata neighbourhood. The clubs have not only joined hands to portray a common theme — Satyajit Ray’s Apu trilogy — to mark the maestro’s birth centenary, all three have restricted their pandals to the pavement for a contact-less drive-through Puja experience during the pandemic.
Located behind the Rashbehari Gurudwara, Nepal Bhattacharjee Street, that branches off Sadananda Road, houses three clubs — Badamtala Ashar Sangha, 66 Pally and Kalighat Nepal Bhattacharjee Street club. Badamtala and 66 Pally have been fierce rivals, weaving elaborate themes to outdo each other every year. The third club, more modest in its ambition, has in recent years managed to carve out a niche and hold its own.
Celebrations this year will most likely be severely impacted by the new norms in place. All precautionary SOPs must be followed.
But with the pandemic throwing up major challenges in organising the festival, the clubs have set aside their divergent ideas and decided to work on the common theme. While Badamtala will bring to life the iconic Pather Panchali, 66 Pally and Kalighat Nepal Bhattacharjee Street Club will portray Aparajito and Apur Sansar. “We have reached out to Sandip Ray to come down once,” said Badamtala Ashar Sangha general secret-ary Sandeep Chakraborty.
When contacted, Sandip Ray told TOI: “I congartulate the Puja organisers for this unique endeavour”.
The three Pujas will integrate facets from the three films in their pandals. For instance, Badamtala will have a rustic setting with an old dilapidated thakur dalan to bring in the feel of the early 20th century, the setting for writer Bibhuti Bhushan Bandyopadhyay’s story of Apu. “There will be symbols linking the characters in the film. And there will be a surprise in the idol being crafted by Purnendu Dey,” said theme artist Snehasish Maity. The iconic train sequence featuring Apu and his sister Durga is likely to be featured in the pandal.
The other two clubs, 66 Pally and Kalighat Nepal Bhattacharya, will have a more urban setting with the former showcasing Benaras ghat and the latter Kalighat and the last scene in which Apu walks into the sunset with his son on his shoulder. “Since space is limited, most of it will be through 2D drawings,” explained artist Deep Das, who is executing the theme for 66 Pally.
According to the buzz in the neighbourhood, young Apu’s face could feature in one of the idols as could his sister Durga’s in another.
While the Pujas are sure to draw attention given Ray’s huge fan following, the organisers say the uniqueness of their endeavour lies not in the common theme but in the plans they have chalked out to ensure a safe Puja experience through contactless drive-by darshan.
“All three pandals will be restricted to the pavement. There will be no encroachment on the street. The road will have a section barricaded for use by pedestrians and the rest for cars to drive by. The road will be one-way for pedestrians and cars with entry from Sadananda Road. Entry of both pedestrians and cars will be regulated, the former to ensure social distancing and the latter to prevent congestion,” said 66 Pally president Rajat Sengupta, also the chief coordinator among the three clubs at this year’s Puja.
The brain behind the drive-through Puja and the Ray theme, Mridul Kumar Pathak, reviews the progress at least once a week from New York. A businessman, Pathak lives in Manhattan but visits the neighbourhood three-four times a year and is always present during Durga Puja. He, however, isn’t sure if he can fly down this time. But that hasn’t stopped him from participating in the discussions and offering ideas over video calls.
It is Pathak who has helmed Badamtala Ashar Sangha and 66 Pally’s evolution from essentially para Pujas to top draws with themes that have wowed the city.
But this year, grandeur will give way to simplicity. “Pandals will occupy just 30% of the space. Budget is a constraint as are work conditions. Craftsmen are working in batches in different locations to maintain social-distancing norms. These segments will later be integrated on site. The prime concern is safety of people living in the locality as well as those who visit the Pujas,” explained Abhijit Bose of Kalighat Nepal Bhattacharjee Street Club.