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Puppeteer celebrates milestone

King of puppets: Giving shapes to social stories  

For him, a doll is not a plaything. It is a tool for development.

M. Kalaivanan’s interest in narrating inspirational stories with these lifeless objects as props started back in school.

Today, the puppeteer celebrates his 40th year in the practice of this art by a grand puppet show for children at West Mambalam. As usual, it is a theme aimed at building society. It is about child rights.

Kalaivanan tells us how the journey started.

“In the early 1970s, when I was at school, I would often create imaginary characters with vegetables at home. I would attach eyes and nose to make them resemble people. My father, who was in the film industry, would give me story ideas. It was also a time we were going through financial difficulties. I would conduct ticketed puppet shows at home,” he says.

Around that time, an advertisement appeared in the media calling puppeteers to showcase their talent, Kalaivanan grabbed the opportunity. In 1975, he gave his first public show and there was no looking back.

In the following years, Kalaivanan has teamed up with the government and NGOs to put up shows in schools and villages on issues such as public participation in panchayat, teenage trouble, sex education, labour rights and child trafficking. He also performed 48 shows in 10 days travelling from Kaniyakumari to Palaverkadu after the Tsunami.

He has a collection of 300 dolls, all of which are made by him and his family. “I give a lot of importance to technical aspects these days. Earlier, my crew would have musicians and dubbing artistes. Now I take writers and technicians who can change the background scenes in no time, for the shows. Music and dialogues are pre-recorded,” he says.

Kalaivanan, who specialises in glove puppetry, talks about the dwindling number of puppeteers. “Many traditional puppeteers are unable to survive because they have not changed with the times. Their stories still revolve around mythology. They have fewer dolls to show new characters. In today’s world, a puppeteer needs to be a lot more innovative to grab the audience’s attention.”

To promote the art, Kalaivanan started the T.N. Puppetry Art Academy last year and two training sessions have been held so far. He says puppetry need not be performed on stage. It can be used for everyday learning.

“We invited teachers to the workshop and told them they could teach children good habits and morals through puppetry. It will enable children to come out of their cocoon, and also improve their creativity.”

Kalaivanan, a resident of Katankulathur, will also release a book on his journey as a puppeteer Oru Kalaiin Payanam today at Chandrasekar Kalyana Mandapam, Ellai Amman Koil Street, West Mambalam. It is open to all. Time: 6 p.m.


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Printable version | Jan 23, 2022 11:46:45 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/downtown/m-kalaivanan-is-giving-a-grand-puppet-performance-and-releasing-an-autobiographical-book/article6624779.ece

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