Puppetry’s still got it

  • Aneesha Bedi, Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
  • Updated: Feb 09, 2015 11:01 IST

While many believe the centuries-old art form of puppetry is slowly dying and a few practitioners of the form blame lack of patronage by government and non-governmental organisations for its decline, a handful of puppeteers are making all the efforts to revive the ancient art in the region through their entertaining and thematic performances, especially during puppet festivals.

HT City spoke to Kuch Kuch Puppet Theatre group from New Delhi who were in the city to perform ‘Pinocchio-The Wood Boy’ during the Chandigarh International Puppet Festival 2015 about sustainability of puppetry in the country and its various forms. The festival, which concluded on Sunday, was organised by UT’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Tagore Theatre Society, Chandigarh, in collaboration with the Ishara Puppet Theatre Trust, New Delhi.

An educational delight for children

Although a fairytale of a puppet boy, Pinocchio wonderfully depicted a child’s thinking, his adventures, about truth and lies, innocence and unselfishness. Talking about the relevance of following themes in puppetry shows, the show’s director, Mohammad Shameem Ansari, shared, “It’s a perfect example of a simple story for children that highlights the importance of listening to one’s parents at a young age. Puppetry can be used as a great medium to convey thoughts objectively.” Other members of the group maintained that they enjoyed putting together shows which were a combination of societal concerns as well as those meant for pure entertainment. Inspired by Indian puppeteer Dadi Padumjee, they attended various workshops under the Ishara Puppet Theatre Trust before forming their own group. One of the members, Vivek Kumar shared how women-centric and corruption-based themes always took centre-stage. “It’s good that theatre is being used to project such evils but we like to play with simple themes such as bravery and honesty with as much dedication, as that attracts children,” he added.

Puppetry’s edge over other forms of theatre

The passionate quartet exclaimed that it was the joy of ‘objectivity’ that made them take to the art. “It’s funny yet wonderful at the same time to see how people don’t get offended when even a serious thought is project through puppets,” said Vivek. Citing the example of popular puppet show on NDTV, Gustaakhi Maaf, he said, “Be it a corrupt politician, or a rapist or a thief or a dominating family member, the chances of getting offended during puppet shows are very bleak. People take it in the right spirit due to the presence of puppets on stage. For me, that’s what makes puppetry powerful. Avinash, another artist, added, “I remember working on a script on HIV virus to spread awareness about AIDS, and we actually had a condom puppet and people received the show very well. Where else, in the Indian society do we deal with such issues so openly? Films and other forms of theatre are critiqued very closely when dealing with such a sensitive topic, even now.” The varied use of music during puppetry shows over the years has evoked greater interest among people.

Puppetry: A dying art form or not?

When asked if puppetry shows had lost their sheen, young members of the Kuch Kuch Theatre group feel it’s the other way around. “There are challenges but I feel people still come to watch puppetry shows in large numbers. We must not overlook the fact that more varieties of puppet theatre have come about with time. While, we might not witness the traditional “kathputli” as often, shadow and glove puppet art have gained popularity,” said Shameem adding, “While more free shows are conducted in a place like Chandigarh, ticketed shows are held on a regular basis in Delhi, Madurai, Jaipur etc.”

Challenges puppeteers face

Elaborating on the kind of challenges faced in their profession, Vivek and Shameem lamented about the lack of puppetry schools in the country, “Even a place like Iran has three universities dedicated to puppetry and here in India we don’t even have as many specialised courses, let alone a university, we learnt on the go,” said Vivek.

Paucity of funds was also a common issue puppeteers have to deal with, they added. aneesha.bedi@hindustantimes.com

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