Monday, March 28, 2011

Hurray! Puppet Day!

On Sunday we had a smashing time at Ranga Shankara on 'World Puppetry day'. An international organisation of puppeteers called UNIMA Union International de la Marionette had declared 21st March to be the World Puppetry Day. In Bangalore this day was celebrated by Dhaatu Puppet Theatre at Ranga Shankara . The Dhaatu theatre was started by a husband and wife duo the Hoskeres. We reached Ranga Shankara at around 11 am to find a group of expectant children and their parents already seated in the foyer in front of a puppet performance stage. The kids and I immediately made ourselves comfortable on the floor. as the show began we were asked to get puppets for the kids.I had noticed that most of the kids were brandishing puppets in their hands I had thought that they'd got it from home/were part of the performers. Anyhow, I rushed to get two puppets for my babies, by that time all the elaborate puppets were gone. The mite was delighted by a smiling flower puppet,the Brat got one of the papier mache ones made by the Dhaatu puppeteers themselves, it was a bit heavy for her.
Anupama Hoskere founder of Dhaatu began the show/celebration with an introduction to the international organisation UNIMA and her husband and cofounder of Dhaatu read out an email sent by the head of UNIMA related to the celebration of World Puppetry Day. Anupama Hoskere is a very articulate lady and I am sure she is a great teacher because she managed to hold the attention of the very restless population of fidgetty children and their equally restless parents who just wanted to see a puppet performance rather than learn something fascinating about puppetry in India. We were informed that there are mainly 4 kinds of puppets in India - string puppets, rod puppets, hand puppets and shadow puppets. We also discovered that Karnataka has its own contribution to puppet making in India and the master puppeteer in the state, from whom nearly all the experts have recieved their training is a gentleman called M R Ranganatha Rao. In fact the Master was there to celebrate the day with us. Mr Rao is now in his 70s but full of spirit, he gave the audience an account of how difficult it was to make a start with a handfull of puppeteers and recounted his experiences. The speech was in Kannada but I could make out from his expressions how much sincere effort it took for him to get where he is. Mr Rao was also gave us a small demonstration of the traditional Kannada style puppet which was very elaborate and the strings from its head and shoulders is attached to the puppeteer's head by a wooden band. As the puppets are made of pure wood and wear heavy clothes and jewellery, it must have been a tough task to manouvre them in those times. Mr Rao was followed by 2 of his disciples who also explained and demonstrated their efforts in the furtherance of this craft. A lady puppeteer from basavanagudi who has done pioneering work in disemanating this art in schools also displayed her work. Mr Rao's wife is also contributing in her own way by making dolls modelled on the various puppets which are sold at an outlet, this dolls also have strings and can be used as puppets along with being a beautiful wall hanging in the manner of the popular Rajasthani puppets.
There were a few short puppet performances in between these demonstrations. The first one was an all out filmy song and dance number with puppets dancing to Bum Bum Bole, the popular kiddies number from the film Taare Zameen Par. This performance used both traditional rajasthani and a sneaker wearing cartoon character type puppets. Then there was a parade of traditional Karnataka puppets, dancers, demons with detachable heads performing to various songs. There was a cluster of puppets strung to a wooden band which appeared like a group of women performing a dandia type dance and this cluster could be controlled by a single puppeteer.
The Dhaatu group also displayed a dancer puppet modelled on a famous court dancer which can, to a great extent, copy the actions of real classical dancers. The final and grandest display was of the innovative metal puppets developed by a young puppeteer of Dhaatu, Kaushik, who is also an engineering student. These metal puppets move with the help of a mechanical device which the puppeteer operates by rotating a wheel. There was a lively performance by 'Charlie and Mrs Charlie' the two metal puppets.
Arundhati Nag (founder of Ranga Shankara and a renowned theatre personality) unveiled the metal puppets and she was present almost throughout the programme.
Finally came the most entertaining and exciting part of the celebrations- the puppet parade. All the kids and their enthusiastic parents headed off for a 1.2 km walk in a procession of puppets. We took a circular path on the road and lanes near the Theatre. The procession was lead by Anupama Hoskere and the Master puppeteer and his pupils were solidly behind her. The procession attacted a lot of attention with people asking us what we were upto.
While we were nearing the end of our walk I noticed that two very young boys were struggling with a giant puppet and they had fallen back even behind the Dhaatu truck which was bringing up the rear of the parade and was giving a lift to those who could not walk the whole distance. They were also holding onto some string puppets while pushing the giant one. The giant puppet seemed to have a mind of its own and was constantly sliding into the drain like indnt at the side of the road. At first I offered to hold the boys' stick puppets while they struggled with the giant. Finally they gave up and scooted with the stick puppets leaving the giant with me. I began pushing the giant and was quite enjoying it when the Mr took matters into his own hands. While he was trying to wrest the giant from me, a man with a fat notebook approached us and started asking us about the puppet and the parade, the entire parade had, meanwhile turned the corner and was pretty much out of sight! So here we were the Mr trying to pry away the giant puppet from me with a guy asking him questions and making furious notes in his diary and the kids standing calmly by on a busy JP Nagar road!! Finally, we extricated ourselves from the questioner and the Mr wheeled the giant home smoothly. We chatted with the inventer of the metal puppet who was enveloped in a wooden cow puppet. Darshana had meanwhile exchanged her heavy rod puppet for a furry string puppet and was very happy at accomplishing that feat. The entire parade stood together and clicked many snaps.
We finally had lunch at the Ranga Shankara eatery sitting next to the Master puppeteer and his family. The kids had pasta and we shared an egg biriyani washed down with iced tea.
The Mr couldn't get over the puppet pushing incident " If you go anywhere with Diya," he observed wisely, " you have to be prepared to run after a thief if someone's purse is stolen, if there is an accident you have to transport the victim to the hospital, if little boys are unable to steer a giant puppet, you have to push it home...and indulge in all kinds of social service", I smiled knowingly and was glad that the Mr got the picture! heh heh

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