Culture without strings
The International Festival of Puppetry and Animation will be held at Dakshinachitra in Chennai in March. A curtain raiser by V.R. DEVIKA.
THE little Kathakali characters come to life. They are miniature models of the awe-inspiring Kathakali characters of Pacha, Katti, Tadi and which play the same roles with the same music. The only difference is that they are glove puppets with a mini tirai and mini lamp in front of them. Pavakathakali from Kerala will be a part of the International Festival of Puppetry and Animation to be held at the Dakshinachitra Heritage Centre in Chennai between March 1 and 10.
On February 22, there was a Gondwana and a Gondwana large puppets performance by John Devaraj's Janothsva group from Bangalore at the Elliots beach (Chennai); on February 24, the group will perform at Dakshinachitra. There is also to be a puppet show by school students and young friends of Dakshinachitra. The puppets of Pavakathakali are fascinating. They have the same make up and costumes as Kathakali. The head and the arms are delicately carved in wood, joined with thick cloth and cut and stuck into a small bag. It is then beautified with different paints, small and thin pieces of gilded tin, the hard carapaces of large bees, transparent corals and peacock feathers. The manipulator inserts his hand into the bag and moves the hands and head of the puppet using his fingers.
The musical instruments are again the same as in Kathakali Chenda, Chengila, Ilathalam and Shankh. Pavakathakali is performed by the Andi Pandaram community which travelled from place to place with a box. Now, there are hardly any Pavakathakali performers except at G. Venu's "Natanakairali" at Iranjalakuda. The Pavakathakali is in contrast to the Yakshagana Gombeyata of the Ganesha Yakshagana Gombeyata Mandali of Bhaskar Kamath from Kundapura Udipi. Here, mini Yakshagana characters come to life manipulated with strings.
The festival intends to transcend cultural strands and get into the spheres of technology such as digital animation. It intends offering a range of puppetry traditions as well as contemporary puppets like Devaraj's Gondwana, the Nori Puppet theatre from Hyderabad, with its glove and rod puppets of Ratnamala Nori, Sudip Gupta's Doll's Theatre from Kolkota and of course the Shadow puppets theatre from Kerala and Tamil Nadu. From Tripura comes Prabhitangsu Das's Tripura Puppet Theatre with a puppet play of Khuku, a little girl's birthday party and the flowering plants.
"The story of puppetry is experiencing a revival worldwide," says Deborah Thiagarajan, President of the Madras Craft Foundation and Dakshinachitra.
During the festival, Dakshinachitra is hosting the governing body of UNIMA, the International Association of Marionettes that represents contemporary puppeteers from Iran, India, China, Australia and Pakistan. With magic and technology, the contemporary puppeteer has brought the art form to new heights. Is it a wonder then that digitally animated cartoon characters have been received with such popularity? For what is digital animation but the art of story telling and illusion.
The cartoon figures of today were the puppets of yesterday. And since Chennai is home to successful developments in digital technology, it is only fit that this latest flight of popular fancy is also included in the festival at Chennai.
The Toonz Animation, India, of Thiruvananthapuram will introduce the characters and the story and technology of digital animation to the visitors. "We hope that the festival with its progression of technology and performance will excite, educate, entertain and inspire," says Dr. Thiagarajan.
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A FESTIVAL of oral narratives, folk paintings, musical instruments and puppetry of India is currently on in Chennai (February 22 to March 13). Organised by the National Folklore Support Centre, it is to commemorate 50 years of the Ford Foundation. It features exhibitions of folk paintings from Thanjavur, Kalamkari, Madhubani, Warli, Patachitra, Bastar, Pithora, Patua, Kishangarh Rajasthani miniatures and Phad. On show are: an exhibition of folk musical instruments of India, a festival at Dakshinachitra on puppetry of India, 10 performances on the oral epics, an exhibition of photographs on the ethnographic contexts of oral epics and theatre forms like Therukoothu and Chavattunatakam. "This festival subscribes to the poetics of invisible connections. Operating between the twin poles of totality and plethora, it intends to show how different performances, folk paintings, oral narratives, musical instruments and puppetry traditions refer to one another, organise themselves into a single discourse, converge with institutions and practices and carry meanings that may be common to a whole period," says M.D. Muthukumaraswamy, director of the centre. "Is Tamasha folk theatre or popular theatre? Is Mayurbhanj Chauu folk theatre or classical dance? The sequencing of folk theatre events at the festival is bound to raise these questions and we hope that such an enquiry would allow us to go beyond the limits of the genre in order to see continuity between cultural strands."
Can we succeed in this experimental exercise? This is the challenge of public sector folklore.
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