Puppetry | With strings attached2 min read . Updated: 05 Nov 2009, 07:52 PM IST
Puppetry | With strings attached
On Monday, audiences at this year’s European Capital of Culture—Linz, Austria—will be privy to a multimedia theatre production that will spill the beans on Bollywood. With its 20-character cast, the musical Bollywood Bandwagon will address everything, from impossible plots to the casting couch, to failed ambitions and fading stars.
A week before they are set to leave, I watch Kat-Katha’s lively bunch rehearse in their studio in the crowded Delhi neighbourhood of Lajpat Nagar. The entry to the stairway leading to their second floor terrace rooms is by the back door. But atop the narrow flight of stairs, the small rooms breed a capacious world of fantasy. And history: As a tradition that is more than 2,000 years old, puppetry predates several other art forms.
Their 75-minute production will employ what Roy calls humanoids. Dolls, 2ft tall, made of wood, foam and fabric, will hang from the puppeteer’s neck, making his or her face and arms a part of the performance. I watch as two young puppeteers, Mohammad Shameem and Pawan Waghmare, bring alive a doll fashioned as a struggling Bollywood actor—Vicky Kapuur, whose name is spelt numerologically for luck. Kapuur’s nemesis, superstar Jahangir Khan, represents Bollywood’s nepotistic leanings. Other important members of the cast include star actress, Kamini Katyal and “item girl" Maya. The production parodies Bollywood to absurd levels that would have been difficult to achieve with human actors.
Their puppet manoeuvring techniques are not easy to decipher at first. Vicky Kapuur’s body bears Shameem’s face (seen in the picture below). And Waghmare, who stands behind Shameem, works Kapuur’s legs to dance in sync with an original score by Mumbai-based composer Shyam Banerjee.
During the performance at Linz, a static camera will record it all live and project it on an LCD screen above the puppet stage, a technique that evokes the 20th century German playwright Bertolt Brecht’s philosophy and constantly reminds audiences that they’re watching a performance.
As the founder and managing trustee of Kat-Katha Puppet Arts Trust, Roy is always seeking to push artistic boundaries; to nudge the real and the fantastical closer to each other. Her company is dedicated to puppetry research, the therapeutic use of the medium, training new artists and building a platform for practitioners.
With the way that it fuses forms, Bollywood Bandwagon seems part theatre, part puppetry. But Roy dismisses such divisions. She traces the genesis of Indian theatre largely to Kerala’s 2,000-year-old Koodiyattam tradition, where actors do everything from acting and singing to dancing. She feels that the division of performing art forms is artificial. Her Voice, the second production that she did in 2000, was a collaboration with Bharatanatyam dancer Geeta Chandran. And her last production, About Ram, in 2006 was a collaboration with animator Vishal Dar. Kat-Katha will also be performing About Ram at Linz on 21 October.
The young artiste attributes her love for puppetry to its undertones of magic; the way it suspends disbelief. “Not just children, adults come up to us and ask how we did this move or that jump," she says. “It’s the incredible power that dead material can have over a human being."