Stories on strings

From traditional American fairytales to a contemporary take on Gandhi’s ideology, Ishara Puppet Festival promises to weave the magic of puppetry all over again.
By Swati Daftuar, The Hindu.
Scene from a Swedish production

Scene from a Swedish production

The 14 edition of the Ishara Puppet Festival kicks off today, and like every year, continues with the tradition of bringing to the country performances from across the world, elevating the art of puppetry to a platform that provides not just patronage for this art form, but also a ready and eager audience.

Interestingly, Dadi Pudumjee, Director of the festival and the head of Ishara Puppet Theatre, says that the profile of the audience is mixed. “There are both adults and children who attend; more adults, actually.” Keeping this in mind, the selected shows are usually just right for family viewing.

The festival brings together puppeteers from across the globe and showcases different styles, forms and methods, so that the festival becomes a smorgasbord that gives the audience a glimpse of modern and traditional, as well as emerging forms of puppetry, both in India and the world. “We have shows across languages and genres. Traditionally, in India we have tended to look at puppetry as just kathputli, something for children. But it is so much more,” says Sanjoy Roy, Managing Director at Teamwork Arts, the entertainment company that produces the festival. Over the years the festival has seen participation from over 100 international theatre companies, and this year, the list grows longer. “A new country to come this year is Egypt, and after a long time, groups from the U.S. and Sweden are coming back,” adds Roy.

The other countries participating this year include Iran, Afghanistan, Italy, Russia and Switzerland. This year, two Indian groups will also be performing, and includes Pudumjee’s own group, the Ishara Puppet Theatre, which will bring back its acclaimed play to the Indian stage after a decade. Titled “Images of Truth”, the play, Pudumjee says, “is called ‘Satya Ke Pratiroop’ in Hindi, and is based on the ideology of Mahatma Gandhi, but is a very contemporary take, in the sense that there are no words, and it is done with world music, a few cut-outs, actors, mask actors and objects.”

Every performance on the list is a special one in itself. From Italy, Teatro Verde brings Bravo, Bravissimo! where ragdolls, puppets and actors bring to life some of the best loved fairytales. The Paul Mesner Puppet Theatre from the U.S. uses rod, hand, glove and mouth puppets to perform the whimsy and quirky “Little Red Riding Hood & Other Rhymes”, while Sweden’s Dockteater Svarta Katten puts on a Variety show complete with Bunraku and String Marionettes.

A ten-day event, with two venues in the city, Ishara Puppet Festival promises to weave the magic that only good stories told well can. “Like they have been doing for the last four years, this year too, the Chandigarh administration has picked up the festival, and a few shows will be performed there too,” says Pudumjee, adding that to meet demand, and ensure that people are not turned away due to the unavailability of ticket, two particularly popular shows, Petrushka from Russia and the Folk Puppets Talent Show from Egypt, will see two back-to-back performances on their assigned days. “We also have a few shows being taken to schools, and some groups will also be conducting workshops with school students,” informs Pudumjee.

Along with the workshops, the festival will also see a series of master-classes, which will be ticketed and held at the India Habitat Centre.

(On till February 14 at the India Habitat Centre Lodhi Road, New Delhi; Epicentre, Apparel House, Sector 44, Gurgaon)

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