With serious apprehensions being raised over the possibility of a massive surge in coronavirus cases in West Bengal post the Durga Pujo festivities, the digital space is replete with suggestions about viable alternatives for Pujo revellers who can enjoy the pandal experience from the safe confines of their homes.
Professionals from all walks of life and civil society groups are also flooding social media spaces with messages discouraging the physical presence of revellers at Pujo pandals, and advising them against crowding at a time when the state is already registering record spikes of around 4,000 fresh Covid-19 cases and over 60 deaths daily.
What’s heartening is that various community Pujo organisers have also thrown their hats in the ring and are offering views of their respective Pujos over live streaming modes on social media while also appealing to people to stay away from pandals on account of the worrisome circumstances this year.
For the more enthusiastic, Envy Digital, a digital marketing company in Kolkata, is offering its digital platform Augmented Pujo 2020, a “360-degree virtual reality walkthrough” from over 50 top Pujos of the city which includes several renowned ‘Barir Pujo’ (or residential family Pujos) of the city and some overseas Pujos as well. All for a nominal cost which the viewer can pay through a designated gateway window in the portal.
Virtual parikrama of Pujo pandals at Augmented Pujo 2020 would begin from Shaptami, 23 October and would be available on the site for the next 15 days.
“We are offering a true 360-degree high-quality digital experience to our subscribers who would have the feel of walking into a pandal through its entry point and would be spending at least five minutes inside each, with enough time to appreciate its theme, décor, lights and idol before one exits and moves on to the next pandal. The parikrama would be as real an experience as one may hope to have during physical visits to the pujas, only this would be minus the travel exhaustion and without the fear of virus contamination,” said Nilanjan Chakraborty, Marketing Director, Envy Digital.
“We have already started receiving an encouraging response from netizens. Our site has crossed 10 lakh views and over 1,000 tickets are already sold. What’s encouraging is that over 50 per cent of ticket buyers are from Kolkata which is an indication that a significant section of local citizens is planning to stay indoors during the festivities,” Chakraborty informed. He added that 30 per cent of sales proceeds would go to the Pujo organisers enlisted in the website.
Organisers of Tala Park Pratyay Pujo Committee in north Kolkata have taken a leap of faith and launched a special Pujo app called ‘Lokohit’ which is now available on both Android and iOS platforms.
The App not only offers single-window access to over 100 communities, traditional residential (‘Bonedi Bari’), aabasan (residential complex), pan-India and overseas Pujos by means of photos and video clips, but is also loaded with emergency services and helpline numbers for pandal hoppers and those who remain at home.
The App also allows the user to access information of nearest eateries to suit the moods and tastebuds of Pujo revellers and even promotes small businessmen to sell products for Pujo shopping.
“Our Pujo theme this year is a reflection of challenging and melancholic times we are currently in. We are seeking the intervention of the Divine Mother to see us through. Our Lokohit App is a step in that direction and we hope to make it the lasting legacy of our Pujo committee even on the other side of this Pandemic,” said Subhankar Saha, Treasurer, Tala Park Pratyay.
Multiple Pujo Committees of Kolkata, besides tying up with the digital marketing companies to promote their Pujas, are also seeking recourse in popular and inexpensive digital spaces like Facebook Lives to discourage footfall and yet reach out to the digital audience with their themes and artwork.
“This year, our appeal to the masses is different. Besides following the government-stated Covid protocols to a tee, we are also asking the aged and vulnerable to stay away from pandals. We are trying to make it up by making our presence felt more prominently in the digital space,” said Dr Saptarshi Basu, organising secretary of the Ballygunge Cultural Association Pujo committee, one of the most prominent community Pujos of south Kolkata.
The club has tied up with Facebook as its official Pujo partner and has placed cameras in and around its Pandal which would roll round the clock and provide live updates on every Pujo ritual, from Bodhon and Pushpanjali to Sandhi Puja and Aarati, on its social media page, Dr Basu explained.
“We have to keep in mind that a large crowd would be a concern. We have our own social media page and would constantly upload pictures and videos of puja revelry so that people can enjoy them from a safe environment. Our sponsors would be happy too,” said Sudip Polley, President, Barisha Sarbojonin Pujo Committee in Behala. The Pujo has hogged headlines this year for its artistic depiction of the migrant labour crisis on account of the nation-wide lockdown.
Several popular Pujos of Kolkata, like the Santosh Mitra Square Sarbojonin in north Kolkata and Mudiali club in the south, who have shut doors to pandal hoppers outside their own locality this year in view of the pandemic are also taking the digital route to reach out to revellers.
In the wake of the reality of community transmission of Covid-19 in pockets of the country, the digital space can, at least, partially make up for the lost charm of the Pujos this year. If people accept it as an alternative, that is.