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No child’s play!

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Giving voice to the voiceless Anurupa Roy at her studio in New Delhi
Giving voice to the voiceless Anurupa Roy at her studio in New Delhi

CHATLINE SANGEETA BAROOAH PISHAROTY meets talented puppeteer Anurupa Roy

The entry is by the back door. The scramble up the narrow stairs to her second floor studio is rather shaky. Atop, chaos awaits you. In the form of noisy hammering on nail heads and loud mugging of lines by a bunch of youngsters, the cluck of a speeding train, merely 50 feet away, in competition. All while the aroma of boiling ginger tea wafts around, making a hundred bubbles in a tired pan on the stove in the makeshift kitchen at the rear.

Appears from the scene of disarray Anurupa Roy, barefooted, hair tousled, flashing a puppet in her hand and of course, her trademark wide grin. “Sorry, we are in a bit of a mess here, preparing for the next show of Maid and the Merman,” she offers. Never mind, one has learnt early in life that the lotus blooms amidst dirt. That creativity is a vehemence impelled to find its vent somehow.

An order in the chaos sets in once we sit on charpoys, sipping the ginger tea in little cups, dipping in it some crisp cookies.

Anurupa belongs to the group of young, talented puppeteers of Delhi, already making a mark with her work and her unswerving love for the medium.

“I started with a clean slate, no one from my family ever did puppetry. My love for dolls as a little girl never left me,” she says playfully. So much so that she went to study puppetry at Dramatiska Institute at the University of Stockholm under the great Michael Meschke, who also taught one of Anurupa’s mentors in Delhi, Dadi Pudumjee. She also learnt from Ranjana Pandey, and holds a diploma in the Guaratelle tradition of glove puppetry from Naples. She trained under Bruno Leone, who was taught by Nunzio Zampella, said to be the last of the old Neapolitan puppet masters.

Forming the puppetry trust Kat Katha in 1997 in New Delhi, at age 20, was but a natural outcome of this exposure. Kat Katha is now vibrant with 27 members and 12 productions. Anurupa is its managing trustee.

“We just staged our production About Ram to open the 11th International Puppet Theatre and Film Festival in Tel Aviv (Israel),” she says.

What makes Kat Katha’s productions noticeable is the seamless interlacing of issues that concern society. They often mix puppetry with other performing arts to augment the cause. One remembers a superb production on the girl child with Bharatanatyam danseuse Geeta Chandran some years ago, and also an impressive use of life size puppets to spread HIV/AIDS awareness for the Gere Foundation. In between, a lot of water has flowed by though. Kat Katha has been holding workshops for children and women in conflict situations, addressing subjects like reproductive health of adolescent village girls, livelihood building for tsunami victims, training nursery teachers to use puppetry in education, etc.

Anurupa makes her own puppets. She is trained to do so. Though she had to think of innovative ways to do the lighting part too, it is different now. “Specialisation is beginning to happen here, say in set designing and lighting.” The field is widening, and “a lot of experimental work is happening in puppetry in India.”

“We have 3000 years of knowledge on puppetry. The art has had been used to deal with social issues, but sadly, the common perception is still largely that it is only for children’s entertainment,” points out the Lady Sri Ram College alumna. Also, “when we are invited by various countries to stage shows, mostly, the brief is, it has to be colourful and fun stuff. There are very few takers for shows that deal with dark social issues,” she states. “But then, puppetry is such a powerful means of expression.” The reason why Kat Katha started the Fringe Festival in 2002 to give a stage to experimental works in the arts. “Due to lack of funding we had to stop but now we are planning to revive it,” she says.

Anurupa blames the myopic mindset for the art gradually declining in many parts of the country. “It is for the same reason that there is not a single auditorium in the city suitable to stage a puppet show. We have difficulty finding sponsors,” she states. That puppetry is often taken non-seriously has also brought in a void. “Some young people are now taking it up, but the gap is quite wide. After Dadi, look at it closely, isn’t there a big void?” she questions. On the same note, she recounts how it has always been difficult to rent a place for their rehearsals. Her eyes roving round the tiny room, she adds, “Thankfully, we have found this place. It belongs to I.P. Singh, a puppeteer who works for the NDTV show, Gustakhi Maaf.”

And then the travel tales! “We are always stopped by the customs.” She recounts a particular incident when puppeteer Puran Bhatt had to perform at an airport to prove that his bags indeed had puppets!

But such are the ways of the world, Anurupa says she has learnt to live with it. She is happy that she has been successful in making her Pinocchios talk.

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