A puppet artist is exploring Indian mythology through life-sized puppets

Hindustan Times | By, Mumbai
Oct 06, 2016 02:41 PM IST

Puppet artist Anurupa Roy is retelling the Mahabharata through life-size puppets

A puppet of Ashwatthama from Mahabharata.(Photo courtesy: Katkatha Puppet Arts Trust)
A puppet of Ashwatthama from Mahabharata.(Photo courtesy: Katkatha Puppet Arts Trust)

A golden mask floats mid-air. There is a blindfold over the eyes. The body is made using a long stretch of silky fabric, with multiple severed heads stitched in. It’s the life-sized puppet of Gandhari, the queen mother of the Kauravas, from the Mahabharata.

The puppet is not controlled by strings from behind a curtain. Gandhari’s prop is managed by puppet artist Anurupa Roy (39): she stands behind the fabric to control its on-stage movement and body language.

A puppet of Gandhari. (Photo courtesy: Katkatha Puppet Arts Trust)
A puppet of Gandhari. (Photo courtesy: Katkatha Puppet Arts Trust)

“Most of our puppet plays have minimum dialogue; we rely on body language and metaphors to tell the story. For instance, Gandhari’s fabric body, studded with the heads, denotes her mourning the death of her hundred sons in the aftermath of the Kurukshetra war,” says Roy.

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Founder of Katakatha, a Delhi-based puppet theatre company, Roy has been a puppeteer since she was nine. The idea of breathing life into an inanimate doll, and convincing the audience to believe in her imagination, attracted her to the genre. “It’s my job to facilitate the suspension of disbelief in the audience. I have to make them believe that using a puppet to tell a story, instead of a flesh and blood actor, is just as powerful,” says Roy.

To explain the process, Roy is set to talk about it this weekend. She will take the audience behind the scenes of her latest production, The Mahabharata – a retelling of the epic through 13 characters from the myth. Roy will also perform a small segment of the original play.

“We designed 13 life-sized puppets for The Mahabharata. Apart from Gandhari, characters include Shakuni, Jayadratha (Duryodhana’s brother-in-law) and Ashwathama, among others. It’s our interpretation of the war, through secondary characters and their back stories,” says Roy.

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The production also uses a traditional Indian puppet culture - Togalu Gombeyaata - a form of shadow puppetry that originated in Karnataka. “We have collaborated with Gundu Raju, an eighth generation artist of this art from Karnataka,” says Roy.

Don’t miss: Mumbai Local: An Epic Retold - The Puppet and its Presence by Anurupa Roy will take place on October 9, 5pm
Dr Bhaudaji Lad City Museum, Byculla ; Entry: Free via registration on bookmyshow.com/events


    Poorva writes for the Mumbai weekend supplement, HT48Hours, and covers theatre, travel, music and cinema.

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