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Once upon a string
Who says puppet shows are only for children?" asks Puran Bhatt. "Look at me, my puppets speak to me and often, in moments of crisis, even show me a way out. " The 58-year-old puppeteer belongs to a tribe of Rajasthani gypsies who once made a living by staging puppet shows, kathputli-ka naach.
It's the spiritual connection between man and his marionettes that will be evident at Dadi Pudumjee's forthcoming Ishara Puppet Theatre Festival. In its eleventh year now, the group has showcased over 90 international puppet shows from across the world. "This year, the emphasis will be on non-verbal shows, " says the Padma Shri awardee mentioning Portugal's The Pier is Alive (Cais Vivo) that uses poetry, music, dance, animations and optical illusions, and Nonso and Nonsa from Italy that, like Charlie Chaplin's silent films, consists of short poetic sketches full of visual humour, comic timing and explanatory signs.
The festival offering both modern and traditional forms of rod, string and shadow puppets includes 10 performances, seven from abroad and three from India. "Other than children, this festival has stories for teenagers as well as adults, " says Pudumjee referring to his act based on the 18th-century Punjabi poet Waris Shah's Kitab-e-Ishq about the tragic lovers Heer and Ranjha. "But there's more to this story - it also focuses on issues that are as relevant today as they were 300 years ago. " Pudumjee is talking about the status of women in society, honour killings and the caste system. "All such anomalies that remain unchanged even in the 21st century, " he rues.
Another act mirroring the fight against repression will be highlighted in Bernarda's Backstage, based on Federico García Lorca’s play, The House of Bernarda Alba. Set in Spain of the 1940s, it's about Adela and her sisters who've been kept like prisoners in their own home by their dictatorial mother Bernarda. "This show is a tribute to all those who fight and succeed in their attempt to lead a free life, " says Paloma Banderas. She is a cinematographer who uses puppetry, dance and video to bring Lorca's work alive. "Besides images being projected over some elements, we have the projectionist and video projectors on the stage as well - they not just add new magical dimensions to the play but are also part of the manipulation process, " she says.
Desislava Mincheva, dancer and professional puppet actress, who took part in last year's festival with Chick with a Trick, is presenting Garbage for Plums this time. This Bulgarian folk tale is about a man who goes from village to village looking for a wife. In his effort to find the perfect partner, he decides to exchange garbage from people's homes for plums. Finally, he chooses a wife who does not have any garbage in her house. "The idea is to give present-day audiences a taste of traditional Bulgarian values, "smiles Mincheva. "Traditions are not for museums, but are meant to continue because they are a core of human values that sometimes we, in today's world, might forget. "
Masha And The Bear is a "fun-filled Russian act" about a little girl held prisoner in the forest by a ferocious bear. There's The Cubes Circus from Israel that takes its inspiration from Cubism, the art movement of the early 20th century, sculpture, the Bauhaus dance theatre and Tsafuf, a popular book for children. It's a world that lets your imagination run wild with clowns and dancers who create magic by transforming cubes into different animals and objects.
A group of eight actors from Iran will present A Musician Who Played The Moon, based on a popular Russian legend. This act is about a lonely musician who, when he plays to the moon's reflection in the river, is invited by the king of the sea to perform in his underwater palace. "Every time the theatre from Iran comes up with a beautiful surprise, " smiles Pudumjee. "You know, the country has two universities teaching puppetry - we don't have even one here - and Iran has the largest number of members in UNIMA. " The ace puppeteer is referring to the French body, Union Internationale de la Marionnette, of which he is the president, the first non-European to hold the position in the organisation's 80-year-old history.
India's traditional forms of puppetry will come alive in the shadow-puppet theatre from Odisha, Ravan Chaya, based on the epic Ramayana. "The whole effect with black-and-white shadows is amazing, " says Pudumjee. "What's significant is that this is the only surviving group pursuing this form of theatre in the state. " And then, of course, there is Puran Bhatt's Dhola Maru, an ancient legend about the separation of a young couple and their subsequent reunion. "Traditionally, our puppeteers, who stood behind charpoys, were not seen by the audience, " says Bhatt. "But this time, we decided to add something new and let them come onto the stage - the idea being to let people see the relationship between the puppets and the puppeteers. "
Also part of the festival is a two-day seminar on the subject, 'Traditional and Modern Puppetry: Issues in contemporary expressions and practices'.
The festival will be on from April 8-16
at Delhi's IHC, Gurgaon's
Epicentre and Club Patio, and the
Tagore Theatre in Chandigarh
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