Pulling the right strings
Jan. 15, 2006

In this age of animation and fancy gadgetry, do puppets stand a chance? Much as you would be tempted to mournfully sway for head (presuming you are a sympathiser), saying they do not stand a chance, the informed answer may well be different. That is where Dadi Pudumjee, who started the Ishara Theatre Group in 1986, comes into the picture.

The man behind the International Puppet Theatre Festival being held currently (January 13-20) in the Capital asserts that puppetry, popular in Indian traditions across centuries, has grown in popularity. “This is the fourth edition of the festival,” he says.

“This year, the international participants at the festival have been sponsored by the cultural departments of their respective countries. The festival will see participants from Japan, Taiwan, Sweden, Iran, Italy and India. Being held at Delhi’s India Habitat Centre, the festival will have nine performances over a week. Among the plays at the festival are Otome Bunraku from Japan, The Red Thread (Sweden), The Anniversary Present (Iran), I am Another Yourself and Carnival of Glove Puppetry (Taiwan) and The Harmonic Puppet String (Italy). The Indian representations include Images of Truth (by Ishara), Sundara Kandam (by Chaya Nataka Brundam) and Kalpanaon Ki Udaan (by Salaam Balak Trust). “Puppets are not just for children,” says Pudumjee.

“While some of the plays are for young kids, there are plays that are more serious too, especially the plays from Iran and Taiwan. The Japanese performance, Otome Bunraku, is also spectacular. Bunraku is an ancient puppet technique traditionally performed by women. Accompanied by music, it tells the tales of great warriors. Women performers have been trained for 10 years.”

Puppetry does face challenges, but the groups that exist are using both modern and traditional stories, says Pudumjee.

“More and more people are getting interested. While initially we just had children, now their parents, teachers, as well as students of mass communications are also regular visitors to the festival.” The tickets are priced Rs 100-200 each. Sponsorship, especially from corporate houses, remains a bone of contention.

“However, they could look at the huge audiences we are getting. Puppetry needs a good platform. It has a universal appeal as it is a very sensitive way to communicate a message. That its popularity is growing is in no doubt as this year we are also travelling to Jaipur and Chennai with the plays. We have people travelling to see the festival.”

Recognition is growing. One of the participants at the festival — S Chidambara Rao — has recently been given the National Award for Crafts for his Tolu Bommalata traditional shadow puppet theatre of Andhra Pradesh. But given the immense scope of this traditional carrier of many a message, a lot more supporting hands are needed.

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