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‘Art can convey what words cannot’

Puppet Theatre, as an art form has been used to educate, teach and provide entertainment. A unique form of performing arts, puppetry has been a part of cultures all across the world since ages.

punjab Updated: Feb 08, 2015 01:17 IST
Aneesha Bedi

Puppet Theatre, as an art form has been used to educate, teach and provide entertainment. A unique form of performing arts, puppetry has been a part of cultures all across the world since ages. HT City spoke to the director of The Lion Who Could Not Write Letter, Abdulhaq Haqjoo, whose group Parwaz Puppet Theatre performed during the ongoing international puppet festival at Tagore Theatre, Chandigarh, about the art form, its scope in Afghanistan and how it is different from Indian puppetry shows.

Q: How did the thought of working on The Lion Who Could Not Write Letter come about?

It is a German story that has been converted into a traditional puppet show to make it student-centric. I love writing scripts for the younger generation, but those who watch it will realise that all age-groups have something to learn from this.

Q: What made you take to puppetry, especially in a country where such art forms are not taken that well?

I used to attend many theatre workshops as a student and in 2009, I decided to form my own puppetry group. I went on to do my masters in theatre from Germany two years later and today, I teach theatre at the Kabul University’s fine arts department. There are been various concerns as far as performing for the audience in my country is concerned, but I have tried to work around them. Art is essential for any society. Art can convey what even words cannot!

Q: Please elaborate on the same. Why only puppetry per se?

I think one can learn moral education, simple etiquettes through this form of theatre. It can be something as simple as washing your hands before/after your meals, using the washroom. On a more serious note, women in Afghanistan have no freedom. One cannot touch a woman in public. It is considered a taboo, however, when the audience watches a puppet being hugged during a puppet show, it isn’t looked down upon as “it’s only a puppet” pedagogy comes to the rescue.

Besides, what gives me more satisfaction than anything else is the power of a puppet to bring a smile on a child’s face. For me, that’s enough to continue with my profession irrespective of its limited scope in Afghanistan, although few people are becoming open to change but there is still a long way to go.

Q: Why do you say limited scope, have you experienced anything personally?

Yes, the members of my troupe have been threatened by the Taliban.

Q: So despite the threats, do you still wish to continue to perform in your country. Is there no fear? Or has that thought of performing or putting up shows in other countries for a living ever crossed your mind?

Many of my friends made that choice, but I wish to stay in my own country. Apne mulk ke liye karna kuch dil karta hai.. I want to settle down in Afghanistan itself in the long run as I want our people to realise and value their own culture.

Q: Are there any specific differences between puppetry in Afghanistan and India? If yes, please share the same

People in my country don’t take artistes very seriously. They think someone who is an artist is perhaps illiterate and doesn’t have anything better to do in life ( laughs) which I don’t think is the case in India. Various art forms have come of age in India. Shadow puppetry has gained immense popularity here but it is not as famous in Afghanistan.

Known for its diverse culture and rich heritage, Indian puppetry shows indulge in a lot of music and colour which might not necessarily be the case back home. Also, puppet shows here follow themes of social evils etc more seriously where as it’s a combination of entertainment and social themes in Afghanistan.