Published: 11th January 2019
B'luru's Dhaatu International Puppet Festival is trying to revive the ancient form of storytelling and entertainment
Puppeteers from around the world were at the Dhaatu International Puppet Festival in Bengaluru recently. We speak to a few of them about reviving the artform
An ancient form of storytelling and entertainment, puppetry has been around for over 4,000 years. Mythological stories or historical events, puppeteers have always left their audience dazzled. But things have changed along the way as people have found entertainment in other places. But that does not mean that the end is near for this art form. And believe us when we say this because we recently witnessed the love puppeteers still receive at the Dhaatu International Puppet Festival, held in Bengaluru.
Puppeteers from every corner of India and other countries like Italy, Turkey and the US came together to showcase their amazing storytelling abilities and also show how art changes according to the region's traditions and culture. From Bengali to Telugu to a myriad of languages, puppets danced and told stories and won the audience over. While at the festival, we caught up with a few puppeteers, both Indian and international, and discovered that they all have one thing in common — passion.
Carrying the legacy forward
In a conversation with Mothe Shankar, a 32-year-old artist from Warangal, we were intrigued to hear that he was a third generation puppeteer. His team performed the play Lava Kusa and though the play, which was an event from the Ramayana, was simple, Shankar's journey through the world of puppets has been anything but that.
Every year, Dhaatu releases a publication called Punaschetana which includes details about puppeteers in India and abroad, and their work. The artists are invited for the puppet festival under various categories like new-comers, remote area artists and traditional artists
Every year, the artists are invited for the puppet festival under various categories like new-comers, remote area artists and traditional artists
Shankar, like many other puppeteers, is pushing to keep the art form alive in his state. But hailing from a remote village named Burugu, he has not been able to travel to distant places to perform. "It takes a lot of money to travel and transport these huge puppets. And the lights and sets also need to be arranged. It's taken us two years to perform on a stage. With not much exposure these days, there aren't many people who call us to perform. But we have not moved away from it," said Shankar, who started learning from the age of 12.
Third generation: Mothe Shankar with puppets at his residence in Warangal District in Telangana (Pic: Mothe Shankar)
Now, his cousin brothers and sisters along with his 15-year-old son have also learnt the art form and are a part of his team. But Shankar as a father also wants his son to study well so that he can get better job opportunities and not only be able to support his family, but also this art.
When we asked him about the training process, he explained, "Initially, people have not introduced straight away to puppets. They are taught to playing talas and the tabla and learn poems and small dialogues. Later, they are taught how to move the puppets according to music and dialogue. But this isn't an art form that you can learn in a few years. Every day is a learning process as the artform keeps evolving." With proper support from the Telangana State Government, Shankar hopes to perform in many other states as well.
It's never too late
Proving that age should never be a factor, Nadia Imperio came all the way from Italy to perform in India for the very first time. At the age of 51, Nadia is still considered a novice, with just two years of performing experience under her belt. Though she was into theatre and acting during her late 20s, Nadia stepped into the world of puppet theatre only in 2009. Nadia, who initially started with shadow puppets before moving on to string puppets, said, "These puppets are called marionettes in Italy and it was the fascination for dolls that drew me towards this art. These dolls are made of pinewood and I too have learnt the art of making dolls."
Marionettes from Italy: Nadia Imperio make these marionettes by herself and has been performing across the world (Pic: Nadi Imperio)
Despite being new, Nadia has been invited to perform in places like Romania, USA, Colombia and next, Turkey. Speaking about her performance 'Under The Strings', she said, "The play is conceived as a sequence of solo characters which is underlined by music. None of the characters in my play speak except one named Nora who introduces the rest of characters to the audience. The aim of my play is to introduce people to the music that's played in the background and also, to the marionettes from Italy. I change the plot and language of the story as per the requirement of the people and the country where I perform."
Catching them young
While the experienced adults captivated the audience, it was the kids who truly took the cake like 14-year-old Anagha Suresh. She has been training with string puppets, shadow puppets and leather puppets for over three years now. So, what drew this young girl into puppetry? "I was interested in acting and wanted to work in theatre. Then, through a friend of mine, I got to know about this artform and decided to join classes run by Dhaatu. I have been learning it since I was 12 and have performed several plays already. The play that we performed here was more like a circus. It is a scene that we recreated from the Ramayana when Rama's brother Bharata comes in search of him in the forest. That's why it involves so many animals and their funny actions. There are no dialogues. It's just for half an hour, but it leaves the audience happy."
Young mind: Anagha is a student at Dhaatu Puppet Theatre (Pic: Rashmi Patil)
Anagha's team has children who are as young as 7 years old. She feels happy to be a part of these plays that entertain both adults and children. "Now, my friends and teachers recognise me as a young puppeteer," she said, happily.
Anagha's team also performed a play titled 'Aane Garva Banga'. It is the story of an elephant who is mad at everyone in the forest and he ends up destroying the eggs of a hen. The other animals get together to teach him a lesson by trapping him inside a huge hole