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Dadi Pudumjee’s south Delhi studio is playing host to puppets ahead of the Ishara International Puppet Festival, which starts next week.

There are Heer and Waris from the Ishara Puppet Theatre’s own presentation at the 13th edition of the festival “Heer Ke Waris"—“the same puppets were used in the film Haider, but in Kashmiri dress," says the Padma Shri award winner. The Kuch Kuch Puppet Theatre has a mask replicating the grandfatherly likeness of Geppetto and a wooden boy for Pinocchio. There are puppets designed by craftspeople at non-governmental organizations, including a pink sock-puppet with stringy hair, a horse-buggy “sculpted" with foam and marionettes. All these will be on sale at the festival.

Going by the Ishara 2015 programme, puppets seem to have outgrown material concerns: They are no longer limited to rod- and string-manipulated dolls, but comprise animation and toys, among other things. Pudumjee, founder of the Ishara Puppet Theatre, says even an everyday object such as a matchbox can be a puppet.

The Taiwan-based Puppet Beings Theatre, for instance, will use object theatre as well as paper puppets in The Adventure Of Puppets, the story of two carpenters on a treasure hunt, who battle monsters and survive tornadoes.

Each puppet has different characteristics. Foam puppets, for example, have a flexibility that is often missing in wooden puppets, and the life-sized dolls that Pudumjee favours create a different impact from the much smaller glove puppets. A performance, Pudumjee says, would change completely depending on the kind of puppet used.

As in previous years, Ishara will have acts by Indian and international puppeteers. The Indian acts will include one by Puran Bhat of the Capital’s Katputhli Colony. Among the international artistes, the UK-based Finger and Thumb Theatre’s Drew Colby will depict Aesop’s Fables in hand shadows; and the SA Marionetas, Teatro and Bonecos company from Portugal will put a new spin on the traditional European glove puppet performance.

Pudumjee is excited about the performances by groups from Afghanistan and Iran. The Safety Pin Theatre group from Iran, he explains, is adapting the well-known story of Red Riding Hood to talk about women’s issues. “Some very interesting things are coming out of Iran," he says.

Pudumjee says Indian puppetry is facing twin pulls—while practitioners like Choiti Ghosh and Sudip Gupta are innovating in terms of the kinds of puppets we use and the stories we tell, there are also examples like the Bharatiya Lok Kala Mandal in Udaipur, which has been holding the same show for 50 years. “Traditional puppeteers have strong technique. What some of them need is guidance on dramaturgy, production, and telling newer stories," says Pudumjee.

The Ishara International Puppet Festival will be held from 3-11 February, 7.30pm, at India Habitat Centre, Lodi Road, and Epicentre, Sector 44, Gurgaon. Tickets, 350, available on The Chandigarh leg of the festival will be from 5-8 February, 7.30pm, at Tagore Theatre, Sector 18.

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