They walk like us with one foot following the other; they sit down, place hands on their forehead and sob for the loss of a beloved; they even swing in circles to play kolata. When they dance to the beats of Yakshagana in the Malabar dance form’s elaborate costume, they, beyond a shadow of doubt, are exact miniatures of Yakshagana artistes.
These tiny creatures that resemble and mimic human beings, animals and mythological characters gathered recently at Dhaatu International Puppet Festival, Bangalore. Decked in colourful costumes and belonging to different times and culture, these ‘puppets’ were the limelight in the city. As puppeteers from different parts of the world showcased their unique stories, style and approach to puppetry, the viewers were intrigued by the vastness and diversity of the art form.
Vijayanagara Vaibhava, the string puppet show that was staged as an inaugural performance was grand in its design, music and costumes. The background music which mainly consisted of compositions written during the reign of Vijayanagara rulers and Wadiyar dynasty also had some original folk numbers which received good response from the audience.
The musical play was informative as it traced the history of Karnataka from treta yuga to the times of Wadiyar dynasty. However, in its preoccupation of historical details, the play turned out to be a sequence of events rather than a story. Although much thought and efforts have gone into the conceptualisation of this show, storytelling and manipulation took a back seat.
Whereas on the second day Krishna Tulaabhaara by an all-women’s troupe from Mulabagilu under the direction of master puppeteer M.R. Ranganatha Rao, a revivalist of Karanataka’s puppetry was neat and methodical.The puppets were made to convey the character’s emotion in a simple manner: the handling of puppets was rhythmical. The fact that it was staged by women, mostly housewives from suburban region of Kolar, who learnt the art from the scratch in about 18 months is laudable.
Sri Devi Mahatme under the direction of Ramesh Kasargod told the tale of demon Mahishasura who attempts to lay siege to the heaven in retaliation of his father’s death.
The complex movements of Yakshagana dance form were assimilated and presented effortlessly by these puppets. The marionette rode chariots, eagle, lion and fought multiple wars ferociously.
In a scene where Mahishasura’s army destroys yajnas and brings down the huts of saints, creative use of fire not just surprised the audience but made the presentation more natural.
If script of the inaugural show by Dhaatu Puppet Theatre needs to be made tighter and interesting with more focus on puppeteers’ manipulation skills, the performance by Panduranga Bombeyatada Tanda, Mulabagilu was worth an attempt. The Yakshagana puppet show from Kasargod deserves an applause. However, as both Yakshagana and puppetry offer great opportunity for the employment of humour, it could have been made a lot more entertaining, if only the Gopalakrishna Yakshagana Bombeyata Sangha included enough comedy in its play.
The Dhaatu International Puppet Festival, on the whole, brought enthusiasm and awareness among children and adults alike on puppetry, its diverse forms, methods of handling and on the new attempts being made by puppeteers from across the world.