Art of puppetry

Puppeteer Prakash Garud at a workshop at the Vyllopilly Samskrith Bhavan in Thiruvananthapuram. Photo: S.Gopakumar   | Photo Credit: S_GOPAKUMAR

Going by the enthusiasm of children who turned up for a workshop on traditional puppetry at Vyloppilly Samskriti Bhavan in Thiruvananthapuram, recently, there is reason to hope that all is not lost for the fast fading art of puppetry.

In the three-day workshop conducted by master puppeteer Prakash Garud of Puppet House, Dharwad, Karnataka, more than a dozen children of various ages and backgrounds – and a smattering of adults too – were introduced to the fine art of puppetry. For most of the participants this was a novel experience. By the end of the workshop, not only did they learn to fashion rod puppets out of papier-mâché, but they also conceptualised and staged two plays featuring the puppets they themselves had made, painted and clothed.

Puppetry in education

“Our aim is that every child in India should at least have one puppet of their own,” says Dr. Garud, who along with his wife, Rajani, herself a puppeteer, travel across Karnataka and the country using puppetry as a tool of education.

“By targeting them young, we are not only promoting puppetry but we are also expanding the scope of an ancient art form that has sadly been neglected. Not to mention creating a viable audience for the future. In addition puppetry uses a lot of narrative skills as well as hand skills, something that is often neglected in modern exam-oriented education practices. Besides there is every need to take a practical approach to this art for puppets are in danger of being relegated as museum pieces,” add the duo who set up Puppet House (also known as Gombemane) in 1996.

A ‘Centre for Theatre and Puppetry,' Puppet House specialises in leather shadow puppetry, which is prevalent in Dharwad and the surrounding areas such as Kolar and Belgaum.

Thol Bommalata [shadow puppetry] has its origins in Maharastra; an art form which nomadic tribes brought to the area a few hundred years ago. Locally, shadow puppeteers are known as Killi kyatas. Themes for the plays are mostly drawn from the epics and the Puranas and the designing and colouring of puppets is an art in itself,” says Dr. Garud, a third generation puppeteer. Puppet House, he says, focusses more on bringing contemporary themes to the mainstream without compromising on the strength of tradition.

“Audiences these days will not sit through eight to 10 hour plays as is the norm. They need innovations – fresh subjects, fresh perspectives, and most importantly compact plays that get the message across. And that's without compromising on traditional methods of narration, colour and presentation,” he explains. Puppet House also has brought out a compendium of puppetry in Kannada titled ‘Matadu Matadu Gombmeye' (Speak! O Puppet! Speak!) with the support of the International Labour Organisation and has a repertoire of contemporary leather shadow productions such as ‘Kempu Hoo' (The Red Flower), ‘Hakki Hadu' (Bird's Song) and ‘Akata Vikata Vilakshana' (Our Friends, the Ogres), to name a few.

The workshop was organised by Abhinaya Theatre Research Centre, Plathara, Thiruvananthapuram, as part of its sixth Ajayan Memorial Theatre festival.

The fete concluded with a shadow puppetry play by Puppet House titled ‘Gardhabha Manushya Prahasana' (A Man of an Ass). It was an adaptation of a central Asian folktale, which narrates the story of a childless washer man who is tricked into believing that his beloved donkey can be turned into a human being. The puppets themselves, the narration and the singing in the play were exceptional, to say the least. However, because the play was presented in Kannada, much of it was lost in translation.

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Printable version | Apr 22, 2021 3:15:45 AM |

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