She lies awake at night, terrified of sleep, terrified of being haunted by her nightmares. And so she weeps—constantly. And weeps so much that she keeps the entire kingdom awake each night. The king is unhappy for his subjects but more so for his young daughter. Is there no one who can save the kingdom from its nocturnal troubles? To find out the ending of Poscosueno or Littledream, you’ll have to take a seat at the 6th Ishara International Puppet Festival at the India Habitat Centre in New Delhi, where wood, cloth and paper will come together to create inanimate creatures that tell stories which are grand in scheme and style.
The festival will showcase a new paradigm of puppetry from India and around the world and cater to both children and adults. “We are trying to bring the different techniques and specialized work being done in puppetry,” says Dadi Padamjee, artistic director and managing trustee of The Ishara Puppet Theatre Trust.
The festival will start on 27 January with a new play being performed every day till 3 February. The participating countries are Spain, Switzerland and India, and it will be a show that combines the talents of man and puppet. “What an artist can’t do the puppet can and what the puppet can’t do the artist can. The power of puppets lies in their objectivity, they can say anything, they are a mirror to reality, they have no ego and express the views of the artist freely,” says Padamjee.
Age no bar: Follow the adventures of Malic.
Puppetry has existed in India since the time of the Mahabharat and the Bhagavad Gita in myriad forms. “Rajasthan, Bengal, the southern states and even Assam have their own puppet tradition. These traditions come from family and lineage,” says Padamjee. The fact remains, however, that unless traditions evolve with time and sensibilities, they turn into museum pieces. Fortunately, contemporary Indian puppetry is not limited to family traditions and history. “Puppetry is alive, modern groups are constantly experimenting and they are influenced by their vibrant urban surroundings. They use puppets to reflect their reality,” adds Padamjee.
This year, the country in focus during the Ishara festival is Spain. Alongside the theatre performances, an exhibition of more than 350 artistic quality puppets from Spain and Portugal, called Window to Iberian Puppetry, will be on display. The exhibition will begin with 18th century puppets and end with works by popular contemporary puppet artists. “This is the first exhibition of this importance and enormity of puppets coming to India,” says Padamjee.
The exhibition may provide a window to evolving forms of puppets in Spain but the plays will give you a three-dimensional demonstration of their usage. En El Jardin or In The Garden is aimed at one-to three-year-olds and uses shadow projection. The visual imagery and miming ensures that words are not needed to communicate. Another play, Rutinas, or Routines, from Barcelona takes a turn at slapstick as Malic, the protagonist, finds out that his life has a way of inviting the unexpected and things go wrong. “It is bloody difficult to do a traditional puppet show; the rhythm, characters, audience involvement and so on,” says Eugenio Navarro of the La Puntual company, which is putting up the show. The speciality of Rutinas is the swazzle that the main character speaks with, which is inspired by the old Punch and Judy shows.
Navarro has been to India before but this visit is a first for Mariso Garcia of the Periferia Teatro company, which will perform Poscosueno. “India is a wonderful country with a culture where the past and the present are together. That mix is very interesting for us,” says Garcia.
The attraction of puppets for every artist is different and each approaches his art differently. “For us it is important to be able to live the illusion of theatre and to get away from the routine of everyday life. Puppet theatre has the magic of tales and the reminiscences of childhood. Children and adults both can enjoy and learn through the fantasy of theatre,” says Garcia. For Navarro, the fascination lies in the ability to attract people of all age groups, “And the way one can thwart reality with puppets,” he says.
The Ishara International Puppet Theatre Festival will be held at the India Habitat Centre (IHC) in New Delhi from 27 January to 3 February. Rs100 and Rs200 tickets are available at IHC. The exhibition, Window to Iberian Puppetry, will be on at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi, from 1-26 February.