BENGALURU: Dhaatu International Puppet Festival is back with its 10th edition. The theme of the fest is Puppetry: Then and Now. Anupama Hoskere, director of the fest, says, “We have traditional and modern puppetry this time, there are shows on Krishna Parijata and Tulabhara and also some shows with surreal puppets… They say this art form is dying but, if you see, artists here are full of energy and life,” she says.
Chador Badoni Naach dekhbe?
A group of people from the santal tribe in West Bengal are trying to keep their ‘chador badoni naach’ alive. Legend has it that a villager in West Bengal saw a man carrying a clothe bag with him. When he was asked what was he carrying, he said, ‘chador badoni naach’. He opened the bag and showed him the puppets.
That’s how the tradition began, says Sahadev Kisku. He along with his group travels to different villages, from house to house, performing this traditional puppetry. “We play tungna and other instruments while we dance and do the show. We sing and tell stories based on Nature and life and accept the donations they give such as money or food,” he says. He sings a song and explains its meaning. “In winter, we feel cold. We use warm clothes that makes us comfortable,” he explains. His group travels during the festivals such as Durga Puja in the chaturmas, the eighth month of Hindu calendar.
Funny man Toto is made from waste
Meet Toto. He introduces himself as a funny man who cracks jokes all the time. He seems confused and says, “Priyanka is my friend… no girlfriend. I love her and accompany her to every show.” Priyanka Kotwal and Toto are from Salaam Bombay Foundation. Priyanka says, “We make all the puppets with waste materials. We also teach children the techniques of making them and perform at different orphanges and schools for children.”
Toto is also made with waste materials such as sponge, she says. Ask what super power does Toto wants and he says, “I want to remove all humans from the planet and become the king of puppets and rule the world.” Maharashtra is primarily known for ‘Chitra Kathe’ narrated through kalsutri puppetry. “But the traditional forms are too long and people do not have much time to sit and watch. So now, we narrate short stories from panchatantra and do comedies to entertain the people, so they relax,” says Priyanka. They also use poetry to explain concepts in science and improve communication skills.
Ravan Chhaya presents shadows
Ravana Chhaya is the shadow puppet theatre in Odisha.
The art form is named after Ravan, the character from Ramayana. “Ravan is known for his dark character. Chhaya means shadow and hence, the art is about dark shadow puppetry,” explains Hemant Kumar Saha, a puppeteer from Odisha. “We use rod puppets and perform stories of Ramayana written by Odiya poet Vishwanath Guntia. We also do stories of Mahabharat and Panchatantra.”
His team also writes their own scripts on social issues for awareness campaigns and performs them. “We did shows on Gandhi’s non-cooperation movement in France. We believe traditional cottage industry
should thrive and people should use the charka like Gandhi did. We also do shows on subjects such as Beti Bachao, Beti Padao campaigns, AIDS and malaria,” he adds.
’Skeletons are scary, but huggable’
Thomas Herfort from Germany makes varieties of puppets such as a little wolf and presents them to the audience. His characters are scary and ugly, he says. Inspired by deva and asuras in Indian mythology, he creates human with horn-like noses birds and others. “It makes me learn that they might be ugly and may be bad characters, but they could be good and beautiful inside,” he says.
He does shows for both children and adults and recalls how he scared children when he did his first show with them. “It was a dark room with just one small light. I went to stage with skeleton and they all started crying seeing them. Someone asked me how could I bring such a puppet to children’s show,” he says. But, he later added more funny movements in his act and now children love to hug the skelton, he says. But, his favourite character is a rabbit. “Rabbits are sweet,” he says.
’We live the life of gypsies’
The travel community Tabor from Russia travels from India to Russia and other countries showcasing their traditional folk puppetry Petrushka. Nikolia from the group calls Petrushka his hero. “It’s traditional Russian street puppet theatre. It’s like a holiday, like an open street festival. The stories are about marriage, love and army. We would like to share wisdom and love everywhere we go.” He adds that the group members carry all instruments and puppets in their backpack. “It’s been three years and our group has grown. We have musicians and designers in our team now. We live like gypsies,” he says.