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January 24, 2015

Zee JLF Conversations: Dadi Pudumjee

Text by Nittal Chandarana. Image courtesy Zee Jaipur Literature Festival

“Puppeteers need places to perform and they have to innovate and make different stories. Which is not easy.”

We attended the Kathputli talk at the festival and were amazed by how beautiful this art form can be. We caught India’s leading puppeteer and a Padma Shri recipient, Dadi Pudumjee, after the session for a quick talk on puppetry 

On Indian and western puppets and techniques
“The local culture is different; techniques are the same. String puppets, rod puppets remain the same but the stories and materials differ. If you’re talking about tradition, it’s one thing. If you’re talking about the modern puppeteers, it’s different. The contemporary puppeteers are not bound by any one form. All over the world they are using different techniques which come out of a theatre background. Traditional puppeteers come from a certain area. Villagers have a form they work within — today many of them are breaking out and it’s still puppetry! For instance, the jadugar puppet, the technique is his own, but the whole look, the material et cetera of the puppet is totally new, which is becoming tradition. In Delhi, everyone wants to have a jadugar puppet because they know that it’s working.”

On the Ishara Puppet Festival
“It is the 13th edition and starts on February 3 until 11, and is the only international puppet festival. This year, we have groups from Afghanistan, Iran, Portugal, Taiwan, and three Indian groups. We try to bring both traditional and modern puppeteers together. But good performances and innovative work are seen all over the world.”

On the current state of puppetry in India
“We need a lot of nurturing because it’s a fragile a lot…with traditional puppets. Puppeteers need places to perform but at the same time, they cannot continuously do the same thing. They realise they have to innovate and make different stories. But for the traditional puppeteer, to make a new story is not easy because he learns by rote. Rajasthani puppets: Amar Singh Rathod. In the South: Ramayana, Mahabharata…it’s what they know from childhood. When they have to dramatise a new story in the same tradition, it’s not easy. There need to be training programmes and workshops.”

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