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Telling a useful tale

A puppet play `Maindak Buddhi', adapted from the `Panchatantra', performed at Shilparamam recently, had a message for everyone.

SERPENTINE PROGRESSION: Children hold up the serpent and the frogs.

THE ETHNIC environs of Shilparamam provided the perfect backdrop to a puppet play Maindak Buddhi adapted from the Panchatantra by the Nori Art & Puppetry Centre and directed by Ratnamala Nori. Puppets have existed since the days of the epics as gleaned from the references in the Mahabharata. However, today the tradition of puppetry is slowly diminishing. Traditional puppeteers like the Tolubommalata puppeteers from Andhra Pradesh have diversified into making objects out of goats' leather while some groups have not changed their repertoire which is mostly based on mythology. So it was heartening to see a contemporary performance adapted from a tale of yore.

The Panchatantra is a child's delight. The presence of children was not surprising while the presence of adults surely was. But the play was enjoyed by everyone. More importantly, this was the first time that Maindak Buddhi was performed in the twin cities. "The production stemmed from a week-long workshop at Sangeet Natak Akademi (S.N.A.), New Delhi on Preservation and Promotion of puppetry which invited all puppeteers to rethink on the styles of presentation. At the workshop it was observed that children like cartoons and therefore the theme of animal-based stories was suggested for performances. Immediately the Panchatantra came to my mind and I decided to adapt one of the stories," said Ratnamala Nori, one of the participants. "Of course there are people who think that the Panchatantra has morbid endings. But we decided to adapt a story on a positive note. I had read a piece in a paper about a frog killing a serpent and so with the help of Premila Nanawadekar, the script writer, I worked on Maindak Buddhi for a year with a grant from the S.N.A. It was first performed at the Putul Natya Utsav organised by the S.N.A. and West Zone Cultural Centre at Udaipur in September 2000 and at the Puppet Festival held at Dakshinachitra, Chennai in March 2002. The performance was well appreciated at Chennai," she adds. Ratnamala aims to make multi-lingual productions and she makes all the puppets herself using thermacol, foam and papier-mâché.

PULLING STRINGS: The team behind the production.

The stage of the amphitheatre had a huge curtain along with some thatched sheets at the side. Out of the curtain popped the rod and mouth puppets.

The tale was a simple one. King Sudarshana had three foolish sons who make fun of frogs in a pond. Vishnu Sharma, the writer of the tales himself narrates the tale of the smartness of frogs to transform his children. It talks of the presence of a serpent in the land of frogs - Froggistan.

WIT AND WISDOM: The princes learn their lesson.

The evil serpent Lucharam cunningly hatches a plot to catch his prey - the frogs. He misleads the prince and princess of the kingdom and the king Mendhak Raja and the Queen about him being sent as the royal mount by Indra.

VICTIMS OF DECEIT: Royal couple taken for a ride.

Then one fine day he feigns to be tired and asks for frogs as they are supposed to give him energy according to the prescription by the Ashwini twins. The mantri advises the king not to give in but the king does not heed it. While the frogs are slowly being devoured, one smart frog Swapan is worried. So he makes a plan to eliminate the serpent with the mantri. How he succeeds forms the rest of the story. The story comes with a moral too - one should not trust strangers, one must listen to elders, keep away from a wicked person and unity is strength. These stories educated many children in an entertaining way.

The puppets lent verisimilitude to the story telling. The big, well-made puppets enlivened the tale and kept the audience in rapt attention. Interspersed in the bi-lingual play with crisp and clear dialogues in English were songs in Hindi which imparted their own charm. The digital recording enhanced the presentation. The puppets were almost human and animal-like manipulated efficiently - especially the long snake which slithered so smoothly.

The play, a simple tale, was a good and professional effort exercise in storytelling in a recreational format and one hopes for more such productions from Ratnamala which will certainly go a long way in keeping the art of puppetry alive.


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