An Overview
Multiple functions of Indian Puppetry
Skilled Craft of Indian Puppetry
Inanimate to Animate in Indian Puppetry
Contemporary Puppet show

Puppetry has basically been a medium of entertainment for the masses. If live performances of puppet theatre can be called live puppetry, it has in the contemporary age entered into another incarnation: canned puppetry: shown through television and film media, after performances were recorded or video taped or filmed. While live puppetry could seldom go beyond the confines of its local performance and reach a mass audience, canned puppetry is ideal for repeated viewing through television, video and cinema.

Live Puppet Shows in India

Traditional puppet theatre has always paid attention to entertainment for the masses, even when it caters to any educational or religious needs. Epic stories are generally used which are familiar to the audience and, therefore, easily understood and enjoyed. The stories, taken from the epics and the Purana, are full of vibrant action to create tension in audience's mind, leading to enjoyment. Music is used live, thus effecting instantaneous rapport with the audience. The main show is usually preceded by dancer-puppets for entertaining the viewers. The comic character, called Vidushak, is an Indian innovation and helps to create a lot of laughter by his antics and repartees. The audience participation in traditional puppetry is an interesting feature, seen almost all over the country. In the Rajasthani string puppet show, for instance, the rural audience is easily provoked into singing and dancing along with the puppets. Quite often, both adults and children enter into a dialogue with the puppeteers and the latter have to be ready with quick-witted answers. String puppets of Rajasthan or Orissa do not have legs, but this does not prevent the audience to accept the dancing marionettes as complete and beautiful. Shadow puppets are all two-dimensional and are often composite figures, but the audience accepts them and mentally conjures up the missing elements and movements! The contemporary puppetry in India has not detracted from these prime objectives, but is even more entertaining because of the competition from the other mass media. The main aspects of entertainment for contemporary puppetry are: profusion of gimmicks (special lighting effect, smoke-screens, magical appearance and disappearance); use of modern contraptions (change of stage and setting, mechanical means for sophisticated manipulation of puppets); interventions by jokers (carrying a lamp on the head, over-sized or under-sized in appearance); mixing of puppet categories (mixing rod with gloves, traditional puppets with human moppets, Bunraku with moppets); inter-mingling of live persons and puppet characters (to create comic effects, to make serious commentary, to be narrator); use of symbolic objects (shoes, long cloth-pieces, red colour to symbolise blood-flow); use of elaborate music (ranging far and wide, from the East to the West); black theatre (using black lamp to show floating or flying motions against dark background); and so on.

Canned Puppetry in India

Canned puppetry founds its forte in the 1980's, although the first award-winning film produced was Hattogol Vijoy in 1961 by Raghunath Goswami. Significant television and film activities on puppetry has been for educational use, such as, (a) Door Darshan producing short educational puppet-based stories for children and adults from their centres for educational television; (b) NCERT producing educational films for children ending with a moral; and (c) Almost all states encouraging their urban centres to produce educational puppet plays on television. Television serials on puppets include: the noted actress Kamini Kaushal showing a puppet serial; Sanjit Ghosh producing a successful puppet-serial Budda Baba Ki Potli, adapted from Arabian Nights stories; Dadi Padumjee producing Chuna Laga Ke to banter social situations; Tar-Ram-Tu attempting lessons on alphabets and numbers, sponsored by University Grant Commission; and Sri Chaitanya directed by Gita Banerjee in Bengali channel. Janglee Toofan Tyre Puncture was another serial featuring funny names for puppet-protagonists who compere entertainment-shows for children. TV programmes bring to children interesting folktales through contemporary puppetry at Star Plus. Contemporary storytellers are Mallika Sarabhai and Band, the monkey. Occasional uses include Delhi Door Darshan making a sustained effort with hand-puppet Jee to act as the morning compere; the literacy programme making use of puppets; and Door Darshan sponsoring puppet-based programmes for entertainment as well as social education. Central-Production Centre of Door Darshan has produced a well-conceived programme on puppet shows by traditional as well as contemporary puppeteers. Foreign features used in India are: Jim Henson's popular musical puppet Serial Fragile Rock on Door Darshan; Video-recordings made on puppet-shows by visiting foreign troupes; and foreign puppet-performances shown live on various TV channels. There has not been much effort for producing video cassettes on puppet-shows. Regarding films, puppets were used imaginatively in some commercial cinema, like Raj Kapoor's Mera Nam Joker and others.

Puppery for Mass Publicity

Use of puppetry in advertisement and publicity has not yet caught as much imagination as in the West, as is evident from the absence of showcase puppetry in our shops. What are more common are live persons dressed up as puppets and moving around in the department stores in big cities. Puppetry in television has been used for promoting family planning, creating bank savings, providing insurance cover for poultry and pig-farm, etc. A recent effort was to create a videocassette for the campaign during the assembly elections using puppet-based political characters. An interesting feature in India has been using traditional puppet-shows in villages: to carry messages for family planning, life-insurance, small-savings scheme, etc., as sponsored by public organisations.


Puppetry can be quite an important art form for the mass media. Television programmes and film-features have made many experiments with participation of men and animals through puppetry, -- for publicity and entertainment. Puppet films have, in fact, become quite a rival to cartoon films, because the former are three-dimensional and easy to create. Besides, a variety of movements can be displayed by different categories of puppets, which are not easy to capture in the cartoon films.

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|Skilled Craft of Indian Puppetry |Inanimate to animate in Indian Puppertry|
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