CHENNAI: What does a Masters degree in Engineering have to do with puppetry? A lot of you are Anupama Hoskere, who is the producer and director of Dhaatu Puppet Theatre. If you had to measure her level of happiness, you’d need a peek into her collection of 650 puppets. Puppetry is not just a full-time profession for Anupama, it is a family affair. Her daughter Divya Hoskere dances on stage, Anupama mesmerises audiences with her backstage narration accompanied by a mellifluous music. Every step of Divya’s dance synchronises with the puppet’s movements.
Their shows are a package of dance, narration, hand coordination, meticulous detailing, and visual elements. “The audience should never be taken for granted. Puppetry might not be known to many but the art form has to be cleaned up and presented to restrict stagnation. There are no fixed methods or scripts followed. I’ve made efforts to conduct international festivals, workshops and training to perpetuate the tradition in children,” says Bengaluru-based Anupama, who has been doing shows for the last 20 years across the world.
The art of puppetry eventually lost its spotlight. Anupama’s talk on the ‘Role of classicism in the revival of the puppet traditions in India’ on Saturday highlighted the history of wooden puppetry In India and its references in historic scriptures. Natyashastra, the masterly treatise on dramaturgy, written between second century BC to second century AD, does not refer to the art of puppetry. But the producer-cum-director of the human theatre has been termed as sutradhar meaning the ‘holder of strings’.
The word might have found its place in theatre terminology long before Natyashastra was written, but it must have come from marionette theatre. Puppetry, therefore, must have originated in India more than 500 years before Christ. “The art was said to have been actively present in the Indian rice belt and South East Asia. Indians had a vast knowledge on puppetry. There were varied forms and names. But due to illiteracy, social changes and poverty the artists slowly gave up and moved towards agriculture.” she shares.
Anupama’s collection expands across categories in puppets like specialised string, rod, shadow, jointed, finger, glove, and yakshagana. Right from carving and chiseling the wood to painting the figures, Anupama fashions all her puppets. The body mainly comprises wood and every part of the body is connected to the other through thick threads.
An outer coating with cloth is given to ensure the figure is maintained. Wood powder and tamarind are used to give it a glossy finish and they are painted with acrylic colours. To ease the hand movements, the dolls are made lightweight. “My love for dressing up reflects in my dolls. Embellishments like piercing, breast plate, necklace and waistband make it intriguing. Stage, lighting and alankara (decoration) play a big role in overall presentation. Environmental characters are coloured green, demons are in red and expansive characters are in blue. I’ve to do the sewing and backdrop painting since artists have stopped doing it,” she explains adding that the stage size and lighting helps audience determine the size of the puppets.
Audience of all age groups attend these puppet shows, especially in rural pockets. Anupama believes that this art form has no language or geographical barriers. The performance can be either good or bad, there is no in-between. “Story is an investment. If you take Panchatantra, it’s more about administration and skills of management. Rather than seeing the underlying mythology we have to focus on the message and bring it to the contemporary crowd,” she says.
Anupama believes that the puppetry-teaching methodologies must be modified to reach more people, and schools must include this in their syllabus to spread awareness. Her dream is to go for a tour around the country and expose the nuances of this art form to everyone. She hopes to open a dynamic museum and a puppet centre. “Puppets are innocent and not egoistic. India is a living culture and art is dynamic. So we have to keep adapting to it,” she says.
Bommalattam - Tamil Nadu
Yampuri - Bihar
Pavakoothu - Kerala
Putul Nautch - West Bengal
Kathputli - Rajasthan
Thoalu Gombeyatta - Karnataka
Tholu bommalata - Andhra Pradesh
The puppet exhibition will be on till June 9 at CP Art centre.