The popular perception of puppetry today is of Disneyesque entertainment for children, akin to animation. We don't always remember its layered history as a sacred ritual, and sophisticated art form — China's pi ying xi, Java's Wayang, Japan's Bunraku, or bommalattam back home.
And, a few dance and theatre artistes have tried to bring puppets in their work with varying results. Where others have failed, Anurupa Roy, Kat-Katha Puppets Arts Trust, has succeeded. Her puppet shows are lit by joyous irreverence and thoughtful irony. Instead of a cut-and-paste job, she has created a stylistics of her own.
Engaging the audience
Roy's ‘Bollywood Bandwagon', brought to the city by Prakriti Foundation for the recent Park's New Festival, was assured of audience engagement from the first visual of the dead mother, imaged by a living face, in a garlanded wooden frame. Here was the ubiquitous maa of Indian films, the pivot around which sentimental lava spews on the screen.
The father was a puppet suggesting the breed of ageing superstars. The rest of the characters came alive in a blend of puppets patched on live actors, with amazing use of gloved hands, not only to manipulate, but to create catchy visuals.
The sweet-n-simple girl whom the brothers Rocky and Mocky fall in love with, is saved by Rocky from the fate worse than death, while Mocky sacrifices his passion at the altar of fraternal devotion — yes, complete with smiles and tears at the wedding of bhai and bhaabhi. There was also the red-headed villain, the strip-teasing siren… every stock character in the book.
The rip-roaring farce during which the audience could join in every dialogue, every hip-swingable song (‘Happy Birthday' or ‘Chiki Miki'), was counter-pointed with scenes shot in studio and on location, interspersed with director's instructions and interactions between the stars and the staff, telecasters alternately drooling and dagger-drawing as they pile up glitz and mess. The dreamers at the fringe struck poignant notes.
The blatant interplay of illusion and reality gained dimension through craft. The camera in front captured the live show for simultaneous projection on the screen above. This clever juxtaposition made you realise just how projected images magnify, distort, romanticise, heighten, and glorify reality.
Simple movements below were ingeniously transformed into every kind of screen image — in long shot, close up, motion — fast and slow, aerial and trick shots of flights or fights. The manipulation was deft, the conceptualisation more so. This was intelligent seduction with audience consent — evident in the standing ovation.
Finally, riotous slapstick gave way to tragic quietude. In what felt like a moment out of time, the macho idol faces the cruel lights of the green room mirror — peeling off layers to reveal a puny chest and a bald head.