A String Parade. By Tora Agarwala, ExpressIndia, Jan 24, 2012

It’s that time of the year when actors move out of the spotlight to give their place to lampposts and paper towels, rods and gloves, that kick and jump, sing and dance, eliciting emotions of giggles as well as remorse in the audience. In its 12th year, the Ishara International Puppet Festival is tilting towards an itinerary that features minimal domestic productions. “We don’t have puppet schools in India and bringing in international artistes is the only way the country can learn about this art form,” says Dadi Pudumjee, organiser of the festival.The 13-day festival that will open at the India Habitat Centre on February 3 will see groups from Taiwan, Italy, USA, Iran, Australia, Germany and Afghanistan. The curtains will go up with A Life in Her Day, produced by US-based Hilary Chaplain, who will dress as a clown to enact the slapstick humour of Charlie Chaplain and tragic comedy of Lucille Ball.

Another performance to look out for is Bozak Chini (The Goat and the Wolf) by Parwaz Puppet Theatre group from Kabul, Afghanistan, that will take place on February 7. After recently collaborating with Azdar Theatre group at the Bharat Rang Mahotsav for the stage play The Little Prince, the members of Parwaz stayed back in India for the glove-puppet show based on a popular Afghan children’s fairytale. Established in 2009, Parwaz is the first independent puppet theatre group of the conflict ridden region. “We want children of Kabul to learn about puppets, something they rarely see,” says Ahmad Nasir Formuli, 28-year-old member of the group. He rues that several members of the group have opted for other professions due to financial constraints, but things are now looking up “with more projects and aid from UNICEF”.

Israeli theatre artiste Yael Rasooly will also take the audience to a fantasy land. Her protagonist is a bespectacled paper puppet who is bored of her nine to five job of a secretary. She dreams of turning into a movie star, singing and dancing against the glitzy backdrop of Paris, Berlin and Florence. Titled Paper Cut, the 50-minute production will be staged on February 8.

Among the handful Indian productions that feature in the line-up is Sanjay and His Master, a collaboration between Pudumjee’s group and German puppeteer Matthias Kuchta. The potential crowd-puller, which will be staged on February 4, will comprise three to four-feet tall hand-held puppets. “Classical Indian music will play an important part in the story. We will have Subroto Roy Chowhdury on the sitar, Swapan Bhattacharya on the tabla and Anjan Saha’s vocals,” says Pudumjee.

For those who enjoy being under the open sky, outdoor performances of shadow puppetry will be held by regional theatre groups from Andhra Pradesh, Bengal and Orissa throughout the festival. “I am aiming at a cross-fertilisation of sorts here,” says Pudumjee, pointing out that the colourful line-up has something for everyone. “The shows are aimed at the entire family,” he adds.

The Ishara Puppet Theatre Festival will be held at India Habitat Centre, New Delhi, from February 3 to 13; Epicentre, Gurgaon, from February 1 to 5 and 13 to 15; and National Centre for Performing Arts, Mumbai, from February 14 to 16. Contact:26011430

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