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Indian puppeteer carries Vikram-Betaal to Broadway

Dadi Pudumjee has become the first Indian to perform at New York's legendary La MaMa experimental theatre.
PTI | By Indo-Asian News Service, New Delhi
UPDATED ON NOV 02, 2004 07:47 PM IST

Puppeteer Dadi Pudumjee has become the first Indian to perform at New York's legendary La MaMa experimental theatre off Broadway.

He showed an avant-garde version of the ancient Vikram-Betaal myth - where a king carries a riddle-telling corpse on his shoulders - to the theatre, now a global arts centre, that was started by Ellen Stewart in October 1961.

Dadi and his troupe performed Sep 16-20 at La MaMa and are bringing the performance to Delhi Nov 10, as part of the India International Centre's festival of arts, which begins here Nov 5.

Called Transposition, it is based on one of the stories from Vetalpanchabinasti, the collection of tales that the corpse tells the king, each of which has a riddle hidden in it.

"I was tremendously excited to be at La MaMa," Pudumjee told. "It is really a centre for alternative and experimental arts. Huge theatrical shows like Jesus Christ Superstar began first at La MaMa and then made the move to mainstream.

"Performing at La MaMa is a whole new experience."

His show is a new interpretation of the ancient Sanskrit tale, which was later written as the Transposed Heads by Thomas Mann.

Through beautiful choreography and brilliant sound, light and puppet design, it tells the story of Nanda and Shridhaman, two friends who are opposite to each other in every way.

Then, they fall in love with the same woman, Sita.

Shridhaman falls in love with Sita first but she marries Nanda, which causes tremendous conflict between the two until thorough divine intervention their heads are swapped and Shridhaman and Nanda can see each other's point of view.

The show also incorporates elements from the work of Rashna Imhasly Gandhi showing myths and intimate experiences to psychoanalyze love.

It liberally draws from ancient Indian puppetry forms as well as Japanese techniques.

"The great thing about puppetry is that it is being used to spread awareness about all kinds of things - AIDS, sexual harassment, safe sex, gender discrimination, corruption," said Pudumjee, who has been a puppeteer for over two decades.

He heads the Delhi-based Ishara Puppet Theatre Trust and has worked with the Darpana Academy in Ahmedabad and studied puppetry in Sweden.

"The ability of puppeteers to constantly reinvent themselves has kept the craft alive for centuries," said Pudumjee.

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