An Overview
Multiple functions of Indian Puppetry
Skilled Craft of Indian Puppetry
Inanimate to Animate in Indian Puppetry
Legend & Geneis of Indian Puppets
Categories of Puppets
INTRODUCTION

While the Glove, Rod, String and Shadow puppetry have been rooted in their own traditions, the contemporary puppeteers in India have diverse genesis and are not steeped in any single tradition. These puppeteers, mostly urban-based, derived initially their inspiration from traditional puppetry or from overseas. Most of them, in fact, began their careers in such disciplines as painting, dance, design, etc. and came into puppetry without any family background or formal training. On the contrary, once they adopted puppetry, many proceeded to become thorough professionals.

Mesca Puppet Team, Bangalore

The contemporary puppetry was started by Raghunath Goswami at Kolkata with his studio Putulpuri, Madhulal Master at Mumbai with his group Indian Institute of Puppet, Devilal Samar at Udaipur with his centre Bharatiya Lok Kala Mandal and Meher Rustom Contractor at Ahmedabad with her puppet wing of Darpana Academy of Performing Arts. All these urban initiatives were taken in the early fifties.

Modern Puppet

Beginning from the late fifties, India opened up to the visits of international puppet troupes, such as, State Central Puppet Theatre from the then USSR, Hungarian Puppet Troupe, Tandarika from Rumanian, Tintookies from Australia and the outstanding string puppeteer Bil Baird from the USA. The latter stayed in India for a long time. Inspired by their productions, many young Indian professionals from diverse fields took to puppetry and often set up their own groups. Bharatia Natya Sangha conducted a survey of puppeteers in India, under the guidance of Kamala Devi Chattopadhyay.

Puppet Family

The visit of the well-known foreign troupes led to deputing four promising young Indian puppet-persons to the Moscow State Central Puppet Theatre to work under the great maestro Sergei Obrarztsov in 1960-61. These professionals were Suresh Dutta, R.N.Shukla Rahi, Dilip Chatterjee and Mr.Sahai. On return to India, Rahi and Sahai continued their art at the Song and Drama Division and Shri Ram Bharatiya Kala Kendra, by adopting traditional puppetry of gloves and rods to produce many modern skits.

Suresh Dutta, with formal training in fine arts and dance, was able to contribute most to the Indian puppet scene. Having started with Children's Little Theatre (CLT), he produced several puppet-plays. He established Calcutta Puppet Theatre (CPT) in 1973 and went on to produce many modern plays, besides some educational puppet plays. Perhaps his is the largest professional puppet group in India, which has spawned many puppeteers all over country with established performers.

Tadaka, Calcutta Puppet Theatre Ramayana, Calcutta Puppet Theatre

Devilal Samar was a school teacher who learnt puppetry and set up Bhartia Lok Kala Mandal in 1952. He started the first puppet festival in 1954, wrote extensively on puppetry and set up a puppet museum at his centre. Bhartia Lok Kala Mandal tours overseas and conducts workshops on puppetry. There are other puppet groups in villages like Tilonia, which work both with traditional and social themes.

Krishna Leela , Bhartiya Lok Kala Mandir, Uaipur

Puppetry in the Delhi scene owes its encouragement to the Shri Ram Bharatiya Kala Kendra, a pioneer in the fields of music and dance. The other important event was the starting of Shri Ram Centre (SRC) Puppet Repertory in 1980. SRC Puppet Repertory in its time produced a large number of puppet plays, mostly for children, involving every form of the puppet art. Dadi Padumjee, has his Ishara Puppet Theatre. Dadi has also shown initiative to use different puppet forms and techniques of modern origins, --- to produce Emperor's New Clothes and Images of Truth based on Gandhi. Among others, Ranjana Pandey has been running her group Madhyam to treat social themes with large rod puppets. A similar puppeteer using social themes is Aloke Roy and his group Jagaran, who have been performing in and around Delhi. The Rajasthani puppeteers, settled in the Shadipur area, have brought puppetry to many religious festivals, marriage ceremonies, birthday gatherings and craft fairs. Many NGOs are also working with puppets on different social problems.

Maya Tiraya Runs Away,SRC Puppet Repertory Ishara Puppet Theatre

In Mumbai, Meena Naik, earlier a student of Meher Contractor, has been producing puppet plays on television, and conducting workshops on different social themes. Ramdas Padhe, a ventriloquist by profession, has been producing many entertaining shows using hand puppets. Kamini Kaushal, the film star of yesteryears, has also been making TV serials with puppets. In Ahmedabad, Darpana group under Mansingh Zala, Bela Shodhan and Mahipat Kavi are working in this field.

Lady by Mahipat Kavi

In Andhra Pradesh, Puppet Resource Centre, Nori Ratnamala with her group Nori Art & Puppetry Centre and Hyderabad Puppet Theatre under Srinivasa Rao & Rajya Lakshmi present shows, give trainings and organise workshops regularly. V.C Harish, a consultant of UNICEF, also conducts workshops.

V.C Harish, Hyderabad

In Karnataka, there are small groups at Bangalore like Karnataka Chitrakala Parishad, working since 1967 with a collection of 2000 puppets. Other contemporary organisations are Karnataka Janapada Yakshagana Academy, who performs traditional shows. A traditional puppeteer Ranganath Rao, and his group Rang Putli, had been running as many as four centres at Bangalore and Chennai, taking resort to elaborate stage presentations and mounting many shows abroad. His disciple A. Duttatreya is a traditional puppeteer working on social themes with his group Putthali Kala Ranga. Along with Rao, he is setting up a puppet village near Bangalore.

Interaction with children, Kernataka

Seetalaxmi of Chennai has a contemporary group: performing traditional shadow puppets, and modern glove and rod puppets. She, too, has a long experience of performing abroad. Ramanamurthy, connected with the Central Leather Research Institute of Chennai, has been experimenting with puppets as to how small figures can be manipulated for small screens by means of electronic devices.

Seetalaxmi, Chennai

Natanakairali, the organisation of G.Venu, has been working for reviving shadow and glove puppets, besides more recently working with string puppets of Kerala. His group has toured abroad many times and has published books.

Literacy House of Lucknow, which works for rural people and conducts courses, has been teaching puppetry and arranging shows.

Ek Taarey Ki Aankh by Mayur Puppet Theatre

A professional group at Lucnow is Mayur Puppet Theatre led by Pradeep Srivastava and Milan Yadav, both disciples of Suresh Dutta, who have been putting up modern puppet plays and conducting workshops.

Awanti Bai by Mayur Puppet Theatre

Kolkata can boast of a large number of contemporary groups like Peoples Puppet Theatre under Hiren Bhattacharya, Little Puppet Theatre under Sanjit Ghosh, Puppet Wing of Children Little Theatre, Nalanda Puppet Theatre under Saibal Ghosh, Puppetorium under Arun ghosh , The Puppet under Swapna Sen, Indian Puppet Theatre under Gita Banerjee and Dolls Theatre under Sudip Gupta among others. Many of these groups have performed abroad and received encomium. Sanjit Ghosh has recently produced television serials: entirely with puppets. Dolls Theatre has been active in advertisement films, thus broadening the scope of the art form.

Contemporary Couple, Kolkota Call of Nature, Kolkota

Assam and Tripura, among other states, house a few contemporary puppet groups whose productions as well as patronage have been limited. In Tripura, Haripada Das, a theatre technician, had been producing puppet plays by his group Tripura Ameteur Theatre. Das, a disciple of Suresh Dutta, used predominantly glove and rod puppets. Now his son is running the group.

Play on Social Theme, Tripura

There are also many small puppet groups connected with schools, churches, mass communication centres and other non-government voluntary organisations whose activities are praiseworthy. A few individuals and groups have also been working with mentally and physically handicapped children all over India.

A Child Adoring Puppet Educational Puppet Show
CONCLUSION

Contemporary puppetry is yet to make its full impact on the country. People are still not aware about puppets and there power of influencing the mind. Puppets are not used much in child education, as there is no comprehensive puppet-training centre in India. There is hardly any good puppet museum (except for some private collections) or any adequate library on puppetry. Many organisations that have instituted awards in different cultural fields seldom include puppetry in their list. Obviously, while much has been done, much more needs to be done for puppetry in the contemporary arena.

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