The year is 2011. Theatre artist Choiti Ghosh has recently returned to Mumbai after completing a course in object theatre at the Institut International de la Marionnette, Charleville-Mézières, France. In Mumbai, Ghosh meets theatre practitioner Sanjana Kapoor from the famous Prithvi Theatre, who instantly prompts her to create a play that incorporates this unique and fairly-recent performing arts that has its roots in Europe. Four other artists join Ghosh, and together they craft Nostos, a 40-minute-long piece inspired by Homer’s Odyssey that combines object theatre with paper sculpture art. While working on this collaboration, Ghosh also forms Tram Arts Trust (they completed ten years last year), a New Delhi (Chittaranjan Park) and Mumbai-based, one-of-a-kind theatre organisation that focuses on creating unique pieces of work through object theatre.
Object theatre merges both theatre and puppetry to create a performance that is compelling and thought provoking. In fact, it offers a massive scope to experiment and narrate a story by going beyond conventions. On World Theatre Day, we delve into the nuances of object theatre and explore how theatre, in general, has the potential to bring change in our lives.
Ghosh has engaged with object theatre over a course of several productions. “Object theatre as an art form continues to excite us. This is why Tram [Arts Trust] continues to exist. The art form has significantly shifted our worldview, not just in terms of theatre but also how you view the world. This is something we feel inspired to share with others,” says the 42-year-old artist.
Experimenting with found objects
Theatre is a medium to communicate stories that appeal to the audience’s conscience in an interactive way. Keeping the aim of theatre in mind, object theatre only makes use of ‘found objects’ as props in order to help deliver these stories to the viewer. Several elements along with practices from other fields such as filmmaking, plastic arts, and animation contribute in taking the plot forward in an immersive manner. This segment of performing arts has branched from puppet theatre and while it bears certain similarities with the latter, it does differ fundamentally. Discussing the key difference between object and puppet theatre, Ghosh informs, “Puppet Theatre brings inanimate things to life. It gives breath and life to any dead material. Object theatre, on the other hand, uses the quality of the object to communicate an idea symbolically.”
Given its dynamism and tendency to shatter existing conventions, this form of theatre has resonated greatly with Ghosh, “Object theatre decentres the human being from the centre of the universe. It takes ordinary objects and puts them at the centre stage, telling the human being that you are at par. It breaks the hierarchy of humans and ordinary things, and continues towards an egalitarian space for functioning.”
Thought-provoking works of theatre
Ghosh has created a number of plays since the inception of the Tram Arts Trust. Bird’s Eye View depicts the world explored through the eyes of a carrier pigeon. The bird carries messages in times of war and peace, thereby becoming a hapless, involuntary participant in a human war. Alice in Wonderland by Ghosh allows the viewer to foray into a fantastical and “weird” world that has been roughly inspired from Lewis Caroll’s 1865 novel of the same name. Another play titled Dhaaba, is political in nature: it depicts a roadside cafe that keeps aubergines to receive a bag of new vegetables all of a sudden. The play showcases how these vegetables learn to live with each other, thus centering on a metaphor.
Currently, the Tram Arts team is working on Khidkiyaan, a half theatre-half film performance meant for the digital medium. To mark their tenth-anniversary last year, the team had organised India’s first International Object Theatre Festival that took place digitally and featured six performances from five countries along with several workshops and talks. “We are slow, consistent workers. When we open a play, it is never a ready production; we create multiple drafts of a play. For instance, Alice in Wonderland went into draft seven. We worked on it for five years while we were working on other plays,” concludes Ghosh.