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TOY STORIES

Folk and traditional theatre fast disappearing into the sunset under the bright lights of globalization include all the fascinating forms of Indian puppetry, now lacking both patrons and spectators. Dolls Theatre thus did a service by organizing a National Puppet Festival featuring teams from Rajasthan, Odisha and Delhi, besides West Bengal. Sangeet Natak Akademi Award-winner Puran Bhat inaugurated it with his Aakaar Puppet Theatre’s Dhola Maru (picture), demonstrating one way of evolution, by merging ancient tales and techniques with newer methods. His mentor, Dadi Pudumjee, had done the identical thing with the same Rajasthani folk romance decades ago, populating the entire stage with his giant puppets. Bhat, a hereditary puppeteer, takes the standard Kathputli string repertoire literally out of their box and moves them all over the stage, particularly appropriate to suggest the lovers’ different locales and the charming journey of the clever camel across the desert. He introduces much larger contemporary puppets, too, manipulated by all group members instead of just the single Kathputli master, the part that Bhat continues to play, however, accompanying himself with the typical shrill boli whistle.

Academic institutions also have a responsibility, to research and document such forms — which very few of them actually do. It satisfied, therefore, to see Jadavpur University’s Cultural Resources Programme present a variety of Palagan from both 24-Parganas districts to a campus audience primarily comprising students. The invited rural troupes performed Kajalrekha from the Maimensingh Gitika and Pushpamala from the Purbabanga Gitika, the Palas of Pir Gorachand and Manasar Bhasan, Lav-Kush from Ramayan Gan, the Putul Nach of Lankeshwar Ravan, and the Raslila Padabali Kirtan. One hopes that the programme translates or subtitles recordings in English as well, so that non-Bengalis can appreciate these neglected genres of Bengal.

Although not in the same context, Calcutta should take pride in the achievement of Manas, our small but dedicated band of Malayalam theatre workers, who went on a triumphal tour of their motherland, winning laurels from the Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Akademi for their production of Jayaprakash Kulur’s Oyamari. The director, K. Nandakumar, excels in the lead role of a schizophrenic talking to those closest to him in his life — grandfather, father, teacher, father-in-law, wife, son — and realizing the extent of corruption around him, withdrawing in existentialist disillusionment.