Published: 08th September 2021
This multiple National Award-winning Odia filmmaker's documentary on Odisha's forgotten puppeteers will shake you
Lipika Singh Darai's latest film Backstage took her and her crew to various corners of Odisha to tell a heart-rendering tale of the state of puppetry as it is today
It started as a research project until it wasn't anymore. In the mind's eye of multiple National Award-winning Lipika Singh Darai, it had already turned into a film — a project she will go on to spend years and years on. Backstage is the name of the 85-minute-long Odia film with English subtitles that focuses on the four fading art puppetry forms of Odisha and it has already premiered at the Asolo Art Film Festival on August 23, 2021.
Lipika Singh Darai
With Lipika's very first film, which was an FTII project, Garud, she received the National Award for Sound Recording, but little did the Baripada-born filmmaker know that a slew of National Awards were going to come her way. Her first documentary A Tree, A Man, A Sea won her the Best Debut Award and the list is honestly too long. After working as a freelance sound recordist in Mumbai for about one and a half years, she came back to her own state to work Odia language films in 2012.
Her other films to win National Awards are Dragonfly and Snake and The Waterfall
The same year, cinematographer Indraneel Lahiri was on the field for extensive research work on puppets, supported by the National Folklore Support Centre, Chennai. Since Lipika, an alumna of Film & Television Institute of India (FTII), is from the same industry and circle, she tagged along. "When I was recording performances, I couldn't help but think how it would play out in the form of a movie," says the 36-year-old. A grant of Rs 13 lakh from the Films Division Of India in 2016 really set things in motion and it was game on for the film which was focussing on four puppetry forms — rod, string, glove and shadow.
Maguni Charan Kuanr
From a senior journalist, the duo found out about rod puppeteer Maguni Charan Kuanr in Keonjhar. "He is so popular that everyone knows where he lives. The wealth of knowledge the then 80-going-on-18-year-old has is so much that we made him a research collaborator. He has taught rod puppetry to many and sustained the art form and we had the chance to work with him for over five to six years and really got to know him," remembers the Odia director nostalgically. The exploration of shadow puppetry or Ravan Chhaya took them to Angul district, string puppetry to Ganjam and hand puppetry to Kendrapara. "Most artforms have been taken forward by those who are from the low strata of the society, nomads who would never stay at one place. If you ask them where they learnt the artform, they say their great grandfather or some such taught them. They don't know the origin," says the filmmaker insightfully.
The years 2017-2018 were spent shooting the film which was wrapped up by 2019 and then followed the long pandemic pause. In between, Lipika was juggling various projects and was able to quickly focus on this film again. She is not in a hurry to release the film anywhere because it needs to do the festival rounds first. So for now, she is working on developing a documentary and working on her first fiction film.
For watching trailers of her other works check out bit.ly/3nk9Wqe