Through the coming week, the India Habitat Centre plays host to the Ishara International Puppet Theatre Festival. Indian masters apart, the show has attracted puppeteers from France, Australia and Turkey.
In this, its fifth avatar, the festival will also be travelling to Jaipur and Chennai. The line-up promises the traditional rod, string and shadow tropes, but also includes contemporary puppetry-focussed cinema and object theatre; all of which adds more of that proverbial punch to an already exciting itinerary.
Ishara is a brainchild of the renowned puppeteer Dadi D Pudumjee, who had formed the Ishara Puppet Theatre Company twenty years ago. Five years after having founded the Ishara Puppet Theatre Trust and Festival, Pudumjee now believes that the weeklong performances help bring together the traditional, modern and the international.
He goes on to add, “As has been our endeavour in the past years, we also want to prove that puppetry is not only for children. Traditional puppet theatre was meant to cater to the entire family and you will find that this proves true for almost all performances through the coming week.”
Teamwork Films has helped organise this festival over the past years. Ila Gupta, the entertainment company’s associate producer, says, “Our job is to help give the often-ignored facets of Indian cultural heritage a platform.” For signifiers of success, Gupta points to the company’s exponentially multiplying database, packed houses to which the festival has played and the enthusiasm shown by cities across the country, all of whom want to collaborate.
“There has quite obviously been a ripple effect,” says Pudumjee. “Puppeteers from places like Tripura and Assam are now calling us. They all want to be part of this festival.” Constraints of space and time apart, there are other causes that sometimes forbid these willing enthusiasts from performing.
“Things are moving fast in the world of puppetry, which is incorporating visual and other media in a big way. We need to upgrade academies and schools if the country has to offer something new and different,” says Pudumjee.
Scheduled to be performed on January 19, Pudumjee’s own offering, Simple Dreams, for instance, seeks to take puppetry back to a state of simplicity that is almost synonymous with the form. But despite the fact that the focus will be on common objects such as umbrellas, the play also incorporates live dance; a break from tradition that has become Pudumjee’s forte in recent years.
In a similar vein, Australian performers Penelope Bartlau and Jacob Boehme will be showcasing their experiment in object theatre, Hatch. Object theatre works on the principle that a puppet can be anything and anything can be a puppet. Inspired in part by Wordsworth, Bartlau and Boehme will narrate the story of a cuckoo clock’s bellows — its birth, innocence, journey and search for a voice and happiness.
There is much that makes Hatch ‘different’ — The ingenuity of narrative, the style in itself but above all, the role of the puppeteer. Says Bartlau, “It is an effort to move away from the world where the puppeteer is master. We ourselves are characters and it’s through our relationship and the relationship that we have with the object, that an audience is able to finally relate to the happenings on stage.”
Storytelling, believes Boehme, is perhaps the most important facet of puppet theatre — “Traditionally, a puppeteer or manipulator was a shaman and storyteller. It really doesn’t matter whether puppet theatre is traditional or modern. If a good story is being told, there is a place for both to co-exist.”
And there will be many stories told over the coming week. Spanish director Paco Parico Casado’s Fabel of The Fox follows animals on their journey through the circle of life and nature. French puppeteer Brigitte Rivelli brings to life the ordeals and successes of Wang Fo, an old painter who quite literally breathes life into his paintings with help from a disciple.
Turkish artist Haluck Yucewill explores the colourful worlds of a white pencil and that of Indian fakirs and witches. All in all, the festival this time around does seem to have enough strings that will pull in yet another full house.