Anurupa Roy

Arts Practice

Grant Period: Over three months

Taking forward IFA’s commitment to developing scholarship in the field of puppetry in India, this grant to Delhi-based puppeteer Anurupa Roy supports a puppetry workshop with master puppeteer Puran Bhatt of the Kathputli tradition of Rajasthan. This workshop is the third in a series of master classes with western and Indian puppeteers that will generate a corpus of documentation towards building discourse for puppetry in India.

The idea of the master classes began a few years ago with the growing need for professional puppet theatre in India. There was a need for a school that would train professional puppeteers thereby raising the general quality of puppet theatre in India. Another significant objective of these workshops was to enable puppeteers from traditional forms to reconnect with their own, often endangered forms and reimagine them in newer ways.

In 2014, IFA’s support kicked off the series with its first master class, where nine practitioners from varied artistic backgrounds trained with master puppeteer Gunduraju, from the Togalu Gombeyata tradition. Support from the Goethe Institut enabled the second workshop with the German material theatre director Barbara Kolleig. Both these workshops have generated vast amounts of documentation. They have also sparked off several exciting questions that are concerned with the ethics of borrowing from the tradition, the creative interchanges between traditional and contemporary forms, the problem of documenting oral traditions, alternative approaches to writing about puppetry and the future of the younger generation within the practicing communities. Each of these two workshops in their own ways has provided different perspectives even as they have opened new debates.

The present workshop with the Kathputli master Puran Bhatt, will take these inquiries further. Kathputli is a string puppet tradition from the Nagaur region of Rajasthan. It has been dated to the period of Raja Amar Singh Rathod during the 16th century. The stories in this form revolve around the exploits of Amar Singh, the court intrigues he was involved in, and his relationship with the Mughals. The puppeteers were probably commissioned by the king to tell these stories. The most unique aspect of the Kathputli tradition is that unlike some other traditional puppet forms in India, it has no ritual or religious connotation. The manipulation technique is also very unique. It involves a high level of technical skill, precision in puppet movement, in depth knowledge of anatomy and rhythm, dexterity and control. Having already engaged with the shadow puppet form, this master class enables Anurupa and the international puppetry association UNIMA - Union Internationale de la Marionnette – to extend their work into the string tradition.

The workshop is open to about eight participants, preferably with a background in puppetry. Each of them will bring in their individual projects that could be developed at the workshop. The call for applications has been circulated widely. Anurupa is trying to keep a balance of new applicants along with participants from the earlier workshops. The workshop will take place over 18 days in Mussorie from 10th to 27th August 2015. Two mentors – Ranjana Pandey and Anurupa – and film documenter Shankhajeet De will be present at the workshop. The workshop will involve working with narratives in groups through discussions or artistic improvisations, working with materials through activities and working with concepts of string puppetry. These activities will stimulate the proposed projects and each project will have a mentor and Puran to guide them.

The important task for the mentors will be to make sure that at no point does the workshop slip into learning the Kathputli. The group will be constantly stimulated to think about the Kathputli form and its nuances, the narratives and their details and the larger context of storytelling in India. The participants will learn wood carving, making clothes, painting, learning the text of the Amar Singh Rathod story and manipulation of puppets.  

The workshop process will involve documentation at multiple levels. There will be participant and mentor journals, interviews by the documenter and observers and recordings of group discussions. An issue of the Sutradhar Magazine will be dedicated to the workshop. The essays by the observers – Anurupa and Ranjana – the video document of the workshop and the special issue of Sutradhar will be Anurupa’s deliverables to IFA. 

This grant was made possible with support from Tata Steel Limited.