Stringing Her Way Into the Popular Imagination

Sitting in the drawing room of the residence she's hired in Vytilla, Ilona Lehtoranta points to a painting on the wall.
Stringing Her Way Into the Popular Imagination

KOCHI: Sitting in the drawing room of the residence she's hired in Vytilla, Ilona Lehtoranta points to a painting on the wall. "It's not by me, it's by Hari," she remarks. "Wait here, I'll introduce you to him," she continues, and darts off into her bedroom, coming out with Hari, her little puppet. No moments are wasted as Hari, using the hands of his creator, adds finishing touches to his masterpiece.

One could easily assume the character was inspired by the Finnish puppeteer's two-month stay in the city, during which she's travelled to Ottapalam, Kodungalloor and Wayanad, but Ilona insists Hari is not like the others. "He is an artist, and he is inspired by Picasso," she says. But Hari is not the only character in the house - Ilona soon brings Ayswaria, who, she remarks coyly, is his love interest.

After 10 years of working as a teacher back home in Jyska, Finland, Ilona could no longer ignore the call of the artist within her. As she said, the theatre had always been a passion for her right from her school days, playing parts in voluntary theatre productions every evening after school.

But it was the puppet theatre that especially fascinated her. "While conventional theatre, using actors, is largely restricted to real-life situations. The artist here is free to use his/her imagination," is her take. And so Ilona quit her teaching job and pursued a professional course in theatre, following which she launched Teatre Capelle, a puppet theatre, holding shows for children and adults, besides conducting workshops. The artist has just concluded one of her workshops for children at Thevara, organised by The Art Outreach Society (TAOS).

But won't an art form like the puppet theatre might seem outmoded to a generation brought up with hyper-realistic imagery in video games, films and animation movies? Ilona begs to differ. "The fact that a performer is inhabiting the same space as the audience, as do the fantastical characters of the puppet theatre, still holds a lot of appeal to audiences young and old. And children being naturally creative, a medium like puppetry stimulates their imagination and they naturally begin to weave their own worlds and characters," she added.

Ilona is due to return home in a week's time. Along with memories of her stay here, she will also take with her Hari and Ayswaria. "I want to teach children back home that this world is much wider than their narrow surroundings, and that it is not only white people that live here." In the backdrop of migrant refugees entering Europe, she feels this message could hold a lot of relevance.

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The New Indian Express