Hyatt of imagination

Sans strings Puppeteer Anurupa Roy at Hotel Hyatt in New Delhi Photo: Rajeev Bhatt

Sans strings Puppeteer Anurupa Roy at Hotel Hyatt in New Delhi Photo: Rajeev Bhatt  

TABLE FOR TWO Experimentation is the constant in Anurupa Roy's life

T he latest offering from puppeteer Anurupa Roy and friends was “Anecdotes and Allegories by Gulbadan Begum” based on Begum's “Humayun-nama.” The show had Anurupa staging stories about Babur, Humayun and Akbar through puppets of diverse size and material.

Anurupa's emperor puppets reflected the rulers' different temperaments. “ Babur was a realist, he wrote the “Babur-nama” himself. I used, for him, paper mache dolls — three-inch miniatures — strong impressions. Humayun was an opium addict and led a life of psychedelic moments. I used shadows and African and South American string music for him. Akbar meanwhile was always in control, so cut-outs and miniature paintings and a camera for projection,” says Anurupa.

Anurupa, among the handful of contemporary puppeteers in Delhi, was at Aangan, the Indian restaurant at Hyatt Regency, for lunch. Her latest show too had the ripples of change characterising contemporary puppetry here with its use of materials and techniques — imagine spy and video cameras for projections in a puppet show.

“The shows were quite good. We were sceptical as it was a ‘history show' and for an adult audience.” In the scene for about 10 years, Anurupa and fellow puppeteers are standing guard to transition. Puppetry is shaking off the cloak of ‘children's entertainment.'

“It has taken us 10 years to get a half-way adult lot,” says Anurupa settling for sweet lime juice. However, she says, “There are professional actors now who want to be trained in puppet theatre.” Further, puppeteers are no more restricted to puppet festivals. “We are invited for theatre festivals and that's exciting for us.”

The chef, meanwhile, sends in a stream of starters. Subz mewa seekh, kesari paneer tikka, chatpata aloo, gutte ka kabab, murg Afghani and lamb seekh kabab make space for themselves on her platter.

Commending the chef for his kabab skills, Anurupa says, she loves cooking. “I have a kitchen in my studio and we all (the Kat-katha team) cook and lunch together, though it is often dal-chawal.”

Her speciality is ‘Indo-Italian' cuisine, a spin-off from her Italy days, where she studied glove puppetry. “I made a living by cooking for people.” When Indian food everyday became staid, “I was told to do Italian and Italians are very strict teachers. Now, I can do the basic pasta well.”

Anurupa's puppetry, meanwhile, seeps into social realities and often becomes a tool for expression. Post-tsunami, Anurupa says, “There were cases of no work, depression and alcoholism.” The women, in a village near Chennai, were given scrap to make dolls and then Anurupa stepped in to do puppet shows with them. Puppets were christened Tsunamika and through them, the women voiced their travails.

She recalls working with women in their early 20's in Beejbehara in Kashmir. The women had never known existence without conflict. “Post traumatic stress disorders were high” and puppet and mask-making brought out stories from behind the scenes to the fore.

The main course makes its way. Naan and paranthas have bhaingan ka bharta, palak paneer, jhinga latpata and dal makhni for company. Savouring prawns and bharta, Anurupa says, full-time puppetry for her is made possible partly by “sustained work from schools.”

Yet when it comes to performance space, she has complaints. “In Delhi, most spaces are convention halls and not suited for theatre.” Even less for puppetry. “On stage most of the lights are 1,000 watts and it will burn my puppets. Since last year, I am buying and building my own lights.”

Anurupa also dabbles with material. “This year, I have built puppets only with paper — toilet paper, newspaper and brown paper. I am also using smaller three-inch puppets, re-inventing tools. I go to watch makers and buy their tools (to make puppets). I am also drawn to object puppetry,” she says scooping out anjeer kulfi.


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