| While the Sangeet Natak Akademi is staging Putul Yatra:
National Festival of Puppet Theatre from 17th to 28th March 2003, in celebration
of its golden jubilee, the art of puppetry in India goes back much beyond
these 50 years. In fact, the art has been centuries, even millennia old:
with continuing tradition prevalent among almost every state in the country.
What has happened in the past half century is emergence of contemporary
puppet theatre where people have been attracted to the art form entirely
outside the traditional families of puppeteers, -- indeed from diverse
disciplines like graphics, commercial arts, dance, music and even science
and technology. As a result, a whole new creative process has been set
in motion, with experiments and innovations found aplenty. This is where
contemporary puppetry has extended its dominion, over and above traditional
The young puppeteer Anurupa Roy of Delhi flagged off the contemporary
works with her Almost Twelfth Night on 18 March. Her group Kat-Katha has
been presenting this hilarious play for sometime in Delhi, turning Shakespeare
upside down, in a delightful combination of glove and rod puppets, moppets
and even humans. "For me puppetry is a mixed, experimental medium which
knows no boundaries," declares Anurupa. "It is a grand opportunity to
meet a variety of people in different disciplines and attempt telling
stories of one's choice. My source of inspiration has been constantly
changing with new themes to regale new audience. I find great potential
with a lot more changes coming in, with a continuing expansion of horizon.
Of course, we have to go back to the traditional roots for techniques
and mix them with our imaginative idiom."
The doyen of modern puppetry Suresh Dutta of Calcutta Puppet Theatre (CPT),
staged his colourful rod-show Aladin on 20 March. It is an Arabian Night
story with the little boy making it big with the magic lamp and claiming
the hands of the beauteous princess. With a most imaginative set and beautifully
crafted puppets, CPT revealed a touch of excellence, which has been theirs
for over three decades. "I was immersed as a child in making clay images
of idols," recalls Dutta. "I remember, in 1940, to have stolen a Durga
facemask and staged a puppet play for other children, with the rest of
the body made with father's clothes. I saw quality puppet plays while
studying in Kolkata and used my art school and dance background to get
into puppetry with Children's Little Theatre (CLT). A stint under Sergei
Obraztsov, the Soviet puppet maestro in 1960-61, opened the contemporary
puppet world to me. My inspiration comes from diverse fields like the
epics, Jatra, nonsense rhymes and even scarecrow images. My dreams remains
to create a National Puppet Theatre, for which I am hoping to get land
from the State Government. My source of fund will be by sale of lottery
tickets to youngsters who will come to see my shows!"
Dadi Padumjee, who has coordinated the entire festival, presents his Ishara
Puppet Trust with the contemporary rod-and-mask piece Journeys on 21 March.
It has also been staged with much acclaim before, drawing inspiration
from the popular Latin American poem Thanks to Life. "Till 1971, I was
interested in string puppet theatre," reminisces Dadi. "I left National
Institute of Design in Ahmedabad to join the exiting experiment site for
direct-to-home village television. Darpana under Meher Contractor provided
me a valuable opening later as well as training under Michael Meschke
in Sweden, where I went back to teach. My source material is drawn from
various experiences. For SRC Puppet Repertory, I used folk tales and mythology.
For Ishara, I've used allegories like Many Faces of Death, Failed to be
Human, even political satire. For Gandhi, I've mixed traditional and contemporary
idiom, and new scenic milieu. As 2-3 puppet groups since 1980 have burgeoned
into 8 to 9 today, I think the future of puppetry is bright."
Pi Theatre's 1001 Indian Nights is a rod-and-hand show on 22 March. Directed
by Varun Narayan, it is a spoof on Arabian Nights fantasy in an Indian
setting. "Puppetry has been my hobby since childhood," says Varun. "I've
been performing in schools, colleges and Mother Teresa's orphanages. Having
joined mass communications research centre at Jamia Milia University,
I used filmmaking for puppetry. I'm teaching puppetry there at post-graduate
level, and still use traditional puppetry as important roots of learning.
I'm deeply committed to communicate to our people: in villages for illiterate
mass, brothels for sex-workers, street children who have missed out on
life; and even fancy audience in sophisticated halls. I've used themes
around the gender and taken my shows to Lahore. I refuse to be elitist.
I do think puppetry has an exciting future and look forward to using 3-D
animation with computer software for so much more clarity in puppetry."
Subhasis sen of Kolkata presents 23 March his Tal Betal Puppet Theatre
in a contemporary glove-show Rutir Goppo. It is the story of a run-away
doughnut and its exciting journey through many adventures. "I saw puppetry
in a friend's house and decided to pursue this art," muses Subhasis. "Having
started playfully and getting claps, I never wavered from my resolve.
Books are my primary sources, apart from inspirations from Raghunath Goswami,
Hiren Bhattacharya, Suresh Dutta and Meschke. My focus has remained as
puppetry in education, -- with a well-knit group around my family of parents,
wife and sons. I left a lucrative bank job in the 1990s for puppetry and
I do believe that puppetry will have a booming time soon in India, --
like the USA where it is a fashion to be a puppeteer."
Sudip Gupta's Dolls Theatre from Kolkata presents Taming of the Wild on
24 March. It creates many vignettes around flora and fauna in nature,
-- with a powerful protest against their destruction. "I began with portrait
painting without any formal training and moved into backstage work in
theatre," remembers Sudip. "A chance workshop with CPT brought me into
puppetry. My cardinal inspiration came from the 28-country puppet festival
in 1990 and I began serious work with Dolls Theatre. My imagination is
fired by graphic arts as I find puppet shows as visually appealing. I'm
also fascinated by theatre and discover its dramatic elements in puppetry.
Above all, I love to communicate to common man, -- using Western and Indian
classical music. My dream is to take my puppet theatre all over India
and abroad. I direly feel the lack of proper facilities for puppet-production,
rehearsal space and support system. My many sojourns overseas have opened
my eyes for the need of technical equipments like computers, so that a
lot more perfection can be achieved."
Halde Jhunti Morogti, a Russian folk tale, comes on 26 March from Burdwan
Puppet Theatre, West Bengal under Swapan Roy. It is a morality play on
how a sincere friend's counselling is ignored only at one's peril and
leads to perdition. Swapan is an artist: with art college background and
modelling interest. "When I saw a Rajasthani Kathputli programme, I went
behind and discovered how the man-and-wife team was conducting the show,
-- rocking the babe on a cradle by a string, all the while. I was moved
to see how their life was a struggle, and not mere entertainment. CLT
was my source of inspiration and I got drawn to fairy tales and folklore.
I've been involved with social awareness programmes like literacy, alcoholism,
dowry system, breast feeding and community health, the last be a UNICEF
project. I'm hoping to get a plot of land from the local municipality,
when Burdwan will be declared as a mega city in near future."
On the whole, contemporary Indian puppetry seems to be following Obraztsov
style of using realistic puppets and the Meher Contractor's style of abstractions
from myths and folklore. It remains to be seen how the future shapes up.