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|Puppetry and myself
essay chronicles the journey of an artist in the world of puppetry.
The journey began in childhood joy, fresh and pure, with the development of a personalized
world created through imagination of an artistic soul.
The projects in self created puppet theatre were spontaneous, and in keeping with the
world of dreams of that individual.
Money, social milage and other gross grains were insignificant in this world of creative
New ideas, new innovations were incorporated in every new presentation and the world of
the artist puppeteer spread from Kolakata to Paris.
Whenever any one used "anything" that may have ranged from a shadow to any
object to impersonate any human being any other animal, and imposed a
"character" on that shadow or object, the art of puppetry was displayed.
This art is visual and performing both. Like any other artist the puppetiers creates a
world of make believe through his performance.
This art originated at the folk level and was maintained through folk traditions. At
times, innovations by imaginative individuals added new ways of presentation enriching the
tradition of puppetry.
In modern times there have been widespread experimentations that introduced new forms to
the world of puppetry.
Modern forms of puppetry have introduced new areas sophistication through special effects
lighting and sound allowing new dimensions in puppet theatres.
Story wise too, the character of modern drama has influenced the puppet theatre both
thematically and presentation wise.
Psychological factor of modern drama and the thought provoking socio-political aspects
have been presented through puppets in many contemporary shows and this new way of
"staging" the puppets have produced different dramatic appeal.
Even traditional stories are at times presented in contemporary manner in modern puppet
theatre. Even so, the strictly traditional puppets will always have their own aesthetic
appeal and importance.
So, the art of puppetry can be strictly traditional or greatly innovative expressing
Every sort of puppetry has its own charm and possibilities. My world of puppetry is very
individual and gives me an immense scope of exercising my artistic freedom.
I made paper cutting figures from childhood and played about with my paper cutting figures
creating my own dramatic presentations for my own pleasure.
It was a world of make believe that had its own characters and their stories. No one else
except I had the right to enter this personal region created by a curious bond between
imagination and reality.
I was an only child yet I never felt lonely as my paper cutting characters were so
engaging. Each paper cutting has a separate existence.
So each piece had a separate character with the ability to move about, dance and enact any
When moved about with the help of strings or sticks, that figure become a puppet and could
be presented in puppet shows.
Backgrounds could be created with paper cuttings too allowing an atmosphere for the
rerepresented reality. Even the open sky, sunlight and other natural factors can create
the necessary setting for the presentation.
As my experience with the world grew, my creative ideas gained a much broader base.
During my stay in U.K. I made a string puppet, a marionette to enact the stories I made
up. These stories explored the psychic world of the individual character named "Fred
Nerg" I had heard of that name from one of my friends.
This small string puppet and the stories that it enacted gave me the confidence of
handling more complicated puppets.
I was only eleven years old at that time. Mother bought me some glove puppets too. I was
very serious about my world of make believe and I knew the potential of this world in the
world of reality even in my childhood.
After my return to India I held a show of shadow puppets featuring a Bengali folk tale at
a Government teachers training college in Calcutta.
Folk tales have a great potentiality for presentation in puppet forms. The story I
presented was from the famous Bengali book of folk literature titled "Thakurmar
Jhuli". From this book my mother Dr. Kalyani Pramanik and myself selected a tale of
the clever fox and the foolish crocodile.
Mother narrated the tale while I operated the puppets. My cousin helped to conduct the
As the people of Bengal have a rich tradition of puppetry and are oriented about artistic
expressions, the show was greatly appreciated by a packed hall of spectators.
I experimented mainly with shadow puppetry and held a show of the prehistoric world with
live fire spitting volcanos and pterodactyls flying.
Invited some people from the area where I lived to see my shows. I realized that the
possibilities for imaginative innovation in the art of puppetry is endless and by letting
my imagination flow, I discovered new horizons in creativity.
My shows on my own small puppet theatre were quite complicated. I presented a show
featuring "Macbeth" by William Shakespere and invited local people to see the
show. Each character of the classical play was represented with authenticity in the puppet
presentation. With magical light settings created with coloured cellophane paper, I
conducted the shows.
Each scene was very carefully planned and choreographed. I narrated the story myself while
operating the puppets. The movements were realistic and special attention was given to
details to create the necessary atmosphere in the puppet theatre.
I understood that I could create another world of my own in the small format of my shadow
That world promised a sphere of endless creative imagination. When I came to Punjab I
continued to experiment with creative puppetry. Shadow puppetry was the main form that I
used for my shows.
In Chandigarh in March, 2001 I was invited to hold a one man puppet festival for eight
days in Alliance Francaise.
I held a puppetry festival for eight days at Alliance Francaise in Chandigarh. I started
adding elements of modern drama in puppetry. I made up themes and stories with the psychic
effect of modern drama in some of my shows.
I produced puppet dramas based on French folk tale and on a theme that presented a story
titled "The delusion of time.
I made that story based on the life of a French poet of medieval times. The dramatization
was contemporary in style. I wrote the script myself.
Since the techniques of puppetry are absolutely traditional basically and the human factor
has been involved in a very intense way ever since the birth of this art form, puppetry in
modern times is a bridge between the ancient and the futuristic.
I had to keep my puppets simple and easy to use as I had to manipulate the puppets single
I held puppet show in The Academy of Fine Arts in Kolkata and the Academy sponsored the
This show featured "Mahishasura Mardini". Later held many more shows featuring
"Mahishasura Mardini Durga" at different venues in India and abroad.
Iconographic presentations from Indian mythology offered a wide variety of subjects with
great possibilities for creative innovations.
The audience in India are acquainted with those stories from mythology in a traditional
manner through social customs and are able to enjoy and understand the dramas based on
Live music always make the best sound accompaniment but in the absence of live music I
have to rely on sound tracks played in electronic or digital manner. Proper sound
sycronization is always important in the puppet shows and live musicians can accommodate
with the situations better.
As I always like to perform with the accompaniment of live music. In the Academy of Fine
arts, for my show on Mahishasuramardini, I arranged for a group of musicians for that
I held later another show at the Academy again. This show was on Radha Krishna Lila. The
show of Radha Krishna Lila is one of great lyrical beauty. Radha and Krishna in puppet
forms with sakhis enact their eternal love story within the grove of trees.
For this presentation I used "coloured" shadow puppets. Music of the flute is
superbly suitable for this special show. The lyrical beauty of the puppet presentation of
Radha and Krishna creates a different world transporting the sensitive viewer to a
different realm of joy.
This show was very popular and I gave different versions of it at venues ranging from
rural India to sophisticated places such as MaisondLind at Cite.
I held several puppet shows in Delhi, Kolkata, Dharamsala in Himachal Pradesh, Chandigarh
and Bhamlada in Punjab.
Most people had never been to a puppet show in the sub-mountainous area in the border of
Punjab and Himachal Pradesh. So establishing a tradition of puppetry in this area is a
challenging one indeed.
If I just thought that there villagers have no orientation about this form of art and had
ignored them, there would have been no positive result. To introduce a "new"
form of art and to create an attitude of art appreciation I had to be really optimistic
and willing to continue inspite of difficulties.
Art appreciation is an innate feeling in a human being, so, relying on this factor, I
charted my course in this challenging area for establishing the art form of puppetry here.
People who accept a form of art are more likely to express their dreams through the
creative appreciation of that art form I am experiencing in and around Bhamlada the
positive impacts of cultural appreciation. Creative interests have positive impacts on
social psyche and personality development of the people exposed to art.
I plan to continue my puppet shows in a regular way to add a different meaning to the
lives of people in this sub-mountainous region. I am experimenting with many different
types of puppets.
I have started making stick puppets in my own way and these puppets will allow me to stage
shows in my puppet theatre even in daylight.
What is so special about puppets? Puppets provide a source of pure joy for me personally
and for my co-worker Mr. Arup Chandra, It is a joy that we share with the rural people of
this area now.
This joy of any art form, when becomes an emotional necessity for the majority of the
rural population here, the miracle of building an "art world" will be
accomplished in this region.
There is no real development or progress without cultural consciousness.
The younger generation is likely to form a greater interest in cultural activities like
puppetry and some may even like to form a "puppet team" with me.
The puppet theatre may even become a tourist attraction when conducted in a proper manner
The future will determine the social impact of puppetry here, while I enjoy the work of
making the puppets and staging the shows.
by Prabal Pramanik ©
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