Grant Period: Over three months
During the review of IFA’s practice programmes in 2013, the expert panel pointed out to the need for scholarship on the performing arts in India and envisioned a role for IFA in addressing this need. In their report to IFA, the panel highly recommended that ‘in certain disciplines, like the performing arts, where a discourse seems to be absent due to paucity of academic or theoretical interventions, the IFA could take a lead in identifying and addressing this lacunae . . . because . . . there cannot be robust practice without a robust discourse.’
In the backdrop of this recommendation, IFA began conversations with artists and scholars in the field of performing arts. The meeting with Delhi-based puppeteer Anurupa Roy happened at a point when she herself was planning to approach IFA seeking support for a process that would enable building discourse for puppetry in the Indian context. Subsequently, the project idea was developed and the grant was finalised.
Within the larger field of the performing arts, discourse on puppetry specifically, Anurupa says, is most wanting. It has in fact taken a long time for the artists and funders to accord puppetry the status of ‘theatre’. Puppetry has generally been considered less serious and mostly for children. This perception has resulted in poor discourse around the practice of puppetry in India. Most writing on puppetry today exists as anthropological studies of the various traditional forms. This was very apparent even in the recent ‘Festival of Leather Puppetry’ held at the Chitrakala Parishat in Bangalore. A rare document on a puppetry seminar held in 1992 seems to be the only in depth discourse on the subject. But even that is limited only to the traditional form of the Rajasthani Katputli. The essential gap therefore is around current practice both in traditional and contemporary forms. This is the lacuna that Anurupa seeks to address through this project.
The need for a robust discourse in puppetry comes from Anurupa’s own experience as a contemporary practitioner, her training in the western system and her close interactions with other traditional and modern puppeteers in India. India has a rich heritage of puppetry with 17 living forms, some of which have existed for over 3000 years. Over the centuries, these have evolved into unique forms with particular aesthetics. However, the only aspect that Indian traditional forms have been deficient in is that there is no systematic pedagogy. As a student, ‘the biggest vacuum was the dearth of both information of puppet theatre and training opportunities’, Anurupa says. This eventually led her to study puppetry in Sweden. With the solid pedagogy of the western system that has been build on the foundations of extensive research, writing and discussions, she trained in fine manipulation and puppet construction techniques that have pushed the boundaries of the form. However, back in India, she once again felt the inadequacy of pedagogical resources. She realised that all she had learnt was the craft of puppetry and the ethos of puppetry traditions in India still remained distant to her. ‘This has largely been the experience of most contemporary puppeteers in India’, she says.
In order to address this concern, Anurupa along with UNIMA-India (Union Internationale de la Marionnette – an international puppetry association) has envisaged a series of workshops with master puppeteers from various Indian puppetry traditions and a few contemporary western masters in the coming years. These workshops will be designed as interactive sessions between a master and a group of participant-artists. Through interviews with the master and thorough documentation of the form, its content, aesthetics, training methodologies and current practice, the workshops aspire to bridge traditional and contemporary puppetry practices through dialogues and artistic interchanges.
This grant enables the first of the series of such workshops. The 15-day workshop/laboratory that will take place in Mussorie from 15th – 30th June, 2014, has master puppeteer, Gunduraju of the Togalu Gombeyata tradition working with nine workshop participants. The participants have been chosen through an open call and cover a wide range of backgrounds including animation, dance, teaching, acting and puppetry. Each of the participants has proposed independent projects that will draw from the Togalugombe either in terms of form, content or aesthetics. Gunduraju will hold the master class for about 6 hours every day where he will train participants in techniques like treating, cutting, stencilling leather, creating dyes, cutting and painting leather and making characters. There will also be short performances and lectures on practices and beliefs within the form and the nuances of the narratives. Another 4-5 hours every day will be devoted to the participants’ personal projects. Gunduraju too will work on his own project. These works will be presented on the last day as works-in-progress and will be considered later for ongoing UNIMA-India projects.
Vidyun Sabhaney will be the documenter and mentor for the workshop. Vidyun has previously worked closely with Gunduraju as part of her own project (that was supported by IFA) and hence would be able to draw from her experience. Anurupa Roy and Ranjana Pandey, President of UNIMA-India will be the facilitators and co-mentors. Documentary filmmaker and puppeteer Mahesh Rai will document the workshop. Researcher Sankhajeet Dey will be present at the workshop as an observer and will conduct extensive interviews with Gunduraju and the participants. All participants and mentors will keep journals.
The extensive documentation of the workshop process will find an immediate outcome in essays by Ranjana, Anurupa, Vidyun and Sankhajeet. The next issue of UNIMA’s journal Sutradhar will be dedicated to the documentation and recordings from this workshop. Mahesh will also make a film on the entire process. This first master class will become a prototype for other master classes that will happen over the next 2 years albeit enriched with the learnings and feedback from this first workshop. The documentation and experience of all the workshops will be discussed at a seminar scheduled for 2016 towards framing a curriculum for a puppet school in India.