Puppeteer Anurupa Roy tells that the art form has taught her to look for the enchantment that transforms a limp piece of fabric into a mystical landscape

It’s a bird…it’s a mountain…it’s the gurgling ocean! Students of the National School of Drama, Bangalore chapter, were exploring a 10’ by 10’ fabric.At the helm of this class was Anurupa Roy, in the city from Delhi to conduct a puppetry workshop.

With over 15 years of experience as a puppeteer, Anurupa does puppetry for a living. Anurupa studied in Lady Sriram College, where she was part of the drama club, moonlighting as a puppeteer. “Puppetry was considered uncool as it was confined to children’s entertainment. I wasn’t very vocal about my interest then.” Her decision to study puppetry was fraught with difficulty as there are no formal puppetry training institutions in the country. “During the initial two to three years, I was a freelance puppeteer.”Later, she worked with senior puppeteers such as Varun Naraya, Ranjana Pandey and Dadi Pudumjee.

When Anurupa watched Apocalypse, a puppet show by Michael Meschke in Delhi, she was inspired to write to the makers. She was invited to Sweden and got a diploma in Puppet Theatre from the University of Stockholm. Comparing Indian puppetry with its western counterparts, Anurupa said, “Modern Indian puppetry has a long way to go before meeting European standards. Indian traditional forms on the other hand are extremely rich and evolved.”

A recipient of Ustad Bismilla Khan Yuva Puraskar in 2007,

Anurupa has travelled the world with her shows, performing in Tehran, Prague, Lahore and Taiwan. Anurupa is the Founder and Managing Trustee of Kat-Katha Puppet Arts Trust, based in Delhi. “Our shows have dance, live actions, masks, music, martial arts, choreography, animation, live feed and of course puppets and objects.”

Speaking of her productions, she says, “We have done an Icelandic folktale called Half a Kingdom with table top puppets, Shakespeare’s Almost Twelfth Night in Hinglish, which extends the gender construct to ideas of love, Bollywood Bandwagon, a satirical take on bollywood and About Ram, based on Bhavabhuti’s Ramayana, in which puppets perform Chhau dance form and Kathakali. It took us six months to perfect the steps and movements.”

Anurupa has used puppetry as a means of bringing about social change. She has worked on The Kashmir Project, a healing project in Kashmir and Virus ka tamasha an awareness show about HIV/AIDS. “There was a time when only kids turned up even for puppet shows tailored for adults. Lately though, the audience are progressively accepting puppet theatre as a form of entertainment for adults as well,” She thinks children are capable of understanding subtleties and their entertainment is unnecessarily dumbed down. ‘There is such frenzy, making it very loud, very colourful. Children are anything but stupid. I’d be damaged if I were exposed to the prevailing children’s entertainment!”

“For Indian modern puppetry to grow, an exclusive puppetry training school and not mere repertories is needed.” In the current cultural policy, puppetry is categorised under ‘folk and others’. Calling it a Catch 22 situation, she says government support is only artificially keeping puppetry alive. “One-time expenditure on festivals is not enough. Money must spent on training and research. National School of Drama caters to acting-theatre. Puppetry on the other hand, is left in the lurch.”

Puppetry has taught her certain philosophies in life. “It has taught me to accept impermanence. One moment the puppet is alive, and the other it is not. I have also learnt that there is certain magic in the mundane. A limp piece of fabric can be transformed into a mystic landscape. The transition is all in the head. If one thinks his life is boring, maybe the problem is in his way of looking at it. Puppets have also taught me to take a back seat and to let go. A puppeteer cannot force himself on his puppets.”

She lightens up adding, “True blue puppeteers are all silly! They are happy to be silly and ridiculous.’

While she is not pulling strings and meddling with her toys, she cooks. She likes Italian cuisine. “I cooked for a living in Italy while studying there.” Puppetry for Anurupa is not a profession, but a way of life. ‘I do puppet theatre because it lets me have this life, and I lead this life because of my puppet theatre.”

Anurupa and her troupe will be in Bangalore, with her show About Ram, in December. Contact Anurupa on royanurupa@gmail.com