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Puppet power

The `Festival of Puppetry and Animation' to be held at Dakshinachitra on February 23 and 24 and from March 1-10 will showcase talent from different parts of the country.

Puppetry, an ancient art form, which was in danger of fading into oblivion, is now witnessing a revival, worldwide. In India too concerted efforts are being made by organisations and individuals to preserve it. The Madras Crafts Foundation, as part of its endeavour to encourage this folk art, is holding a `Festival of Puppetry and Animation' on February 23 and 24 and from March 1-10.

Puppetry was a popular form of education and entertainment before the advent of TV and cinema, and the arrival of the decorated horse-drawn cart in a Tamil village was an event that caused much excitement. The small cart would carry the entire household effects, puppets, props and the family of nomadic shadow puppeteers. The puppeteers would enter a village, beating drums to announce their arrival and at once begin preparations for the show which would be held on open ground, with a white dhoti tied between two trees or posts, serving as a screen.

The themes used would usually be from mythology, episodes from the Ramayana being the preferred choice. The audience would look on enthralled for, life's struggles would be validated with the triumph of good over evil. Religion, government, morals and a social message - the puppeteers would portray it all in an entertaining way.

But life for these nomadic artistes has become increasingly difficult. Packing up and moving from village to village round the year, they are able to visit their own village only for a brief stay, during the monsoon months. Throughout the country, families practising puppetry are facing huge challenges with society undergoing a process of transformation. Villages too are finding it increasingly difficult to support the troupes and are embracing newer forms of entertainment.

The attempt therefore during the Festival of Puppetry, jointly organised by the National Folklore Support Centre, at Dakshinachitra will be to discuss the latest developments in this field and issues affecting it. Dakshinachitra is to host the governing body of UNIMA, the International Association of Marionettes. Representatives themselves contemporary puppeteers from Iran, India, China, Australia and Pakistan will meet for a discussion.

A highlight of the festival will be the use of digital animation by Toonz Animation India, Ltd of Thiruvananthapuram, which will introduce its characters and the story and the technology of digital animation to visitors. It is hoped that the festival with advanced technology and performances will `excite, educate, entertain and inspire, if not puppeteers for the future, then good storytellers, artists, designers and dramatists and technology buffs.' Above all, the objective is to inspire appreciation for the wide range of talent that a puppeteer must have to ensnare his audience into his make-believe world.

Following is the list of the participating troupes: Janothasava, Andhra Shadow Puppeteers, Aakar Puppet Group, Nori Puppet Theatre, Natana Kairali, Tholpava Koothu & Puppet Centre, Shri Ganesh Yakshagana Gombeyata Mandali, Tripura Puppet Theatre, Dolls Theatre and A. Selvaraj a well-known shadow puppeteer from Tamil Nadu. For details contact The Madras Crafts Foundation-4462435.

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