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As puppeteers gather in Delhi, a rare chance for them to enjoy the limelight

Puppeteers prepare for Ishara International Puppet Theatre Festival to be held in Delhi from February 20 to February 27.

delhi Updated: Feb 19, 2018 11:56 IST
Snehal Tripathi
Snehal Tripathi
Hindustan Times
puppeteer,delhi art festival,art festival
Delhi-based puppeteers rehearse for their show in a studio at Kishangarh on Friday.(Burhaan Kinu/HT PHOTO)

Mohammad Shameem (29), a freelance puppeteer, says he is the first in his family to take up puppetry as a full-time profession. The life of this Delhi-based artist revolves around making puppets and enacting stories on stage in order to scrape a living. For puppeteers like Shameem, work comes sporadically and a constant stream of income is usually hard to come by.

Shameem and a few other first-generation puppeteers are currently gathered in the National Capital preparing to take centre stage during one of the biggest puppet theatre festivals in the city. The upcoming Ishara International Puppet Theatre Festival, to be held from February 20-27, is a major event for them as here they get exposure to a larger audience and the chance to perform with theatre artists from across the globe.

As the countdown for the festival begins, Shameem and his group members are busy rehearing everyday at a small workshop in south Delhi’s Kishangarh village. Under the direction of famed puppeteer Dadi D Pudumjee, the group is going to enact a story based on a children’s book ‘Gone Grandmother’. Shameem and three other puppeteers will portray the innocence of childhood through the 45-minute show, titled ‘Where Has My Nani Gone?’ on February 27.

Shameem says he came to Delhi from Jharkhand more than 10 years ago and began training for puppetry under skilled puppeteers. Soon, he joined the Ishara Puppet Theatre Group and began making puppets for them. He estimates that he has probably prepared over a thousand puppets till date. In his free time, he takes orders and makes puppets for others.

Vivek Kumar (29), another first-generation puppeteer, is also part of the group. Kumar says he has been doing puppetry for the past 13 years. Like Shameem, he is also a freelancer (not assigned only to one group) and is based out of Delhi.

“I am the first from my family to do puppetry. I was good at theatre during my school days. And later I auditioned for a puppet show, where Dadi sir selected me. Ever since then I have not looked back. Puppets are my constant companions now,” said Kumar.

But our lives aren’t easy, he adds.

Kumar says that performing puppet shows in school and colleges gets them around ₹10,000 to ₹20,000. This goes up to ₹30,000 to ₹40,000 when they participate in puppet festivals. However, majority of their earnings gets spent in buying raw materials and travelling. The festivals also happen only once or twice a year. Schools and colleges do not invite them throughout the year.

“The good time for puppeteers is from September to March. During this time many literary festivals are conducted and we make enough money to sail through the year. The best income comes from performing in corporate shows, which is a rare opportunity. Here we can earn anywhere between ₹50,000 to ₹1 lakh per show,” he said.

People are not ready to pay them well for their shows in India, he adds. And hiring an auditorium for their performances is often expensive.

“Puppetry is considered the lowest form of art in India. We are paid very less, and whatever we earn goes in buying raw materials, travelling and producing shows. People still do not understand puppetry or its importance. In comparison, foreign audience respects this art. There are more opportunities to earn money by performing abroad,” said Kumar.

Kumari Yadav (25), another puppeteer at the workshop, proudly displays her small puppet. It is designed in the form of a little girl. Kumari says that she has been training in puppetry since 2006. She has no degree or diploma, but an interest to make puppets and zeal to perform with them has made her mark a career for herself in the field. She says that she earns between ₹2,000 to ₹3,000 a show while performing at educational institutions.

“I can express anything through puppets. That is what got me interested in this art. In the upcoming puppet festival, I am going to enact an inter-generational family story, which conveys joy and sorrow, life and death. The story is about a little girl, who wonders where her grandmother has gone,” said Kumari.

First Published: Feb 18, 2018 23:08 IST