Puppets Up! attracts talent from across the globe.
This year, we are excited to host the Aakaar Puppet Theatre from the Kathputli Colony: Delhi, India.
Puran Bhat was born a puppeteer. Almost literally. Puppeteering is an old tradition in his family that can be traced back to ancient times. Thus, it was quite natural that he would follow this same path, even as a young child in India. Puran began helping his father with puppet making at five years old, and at the age of nine he did his first performance.
Puran started his own production in 1990. Not long after, he and two friends did some performances together for a literacy mission in India. Puran wanted to do something that would preserve India’s traditional culture, so he started the Aakaar Puppet Theatre. Today, his stunning marionettes take audiences back to the vibrant, exotic setting of 17th century India, mixing ancestral styles with more contemporary puppetry, song and dance.
“The Kathputli marionettes are a very traditional, unique and famous form of puppetry from India,” says Louise Lapointe, artistic director for the Festival de Casteliers in Montreal. “It is a privilege to introduce the Canadian public to this kind of puppet theatre. The puppets are very colorful, and many are whimsical. It is a pure delight to watch a performance and enjoy the artistry of the technique.”
Puran loves being able to manipulate puppets, making them move and experimenting with them to find new ways of telling stories. Most of his shows are created using folk tales, but the Aakaar Puppet Theatre also works for social causes, creating shows that reflect certain issues.
Puran lives in the gypsy Kathputli Colony, located right in the core of Delhi. The colony was started in the 1960s’ by a few nomadic puppeteer families, and is now home to more than 3,000 families. Today it has become a slum, but it is still populated by traditional Indian gypsies who are artists of all kinds – puppeteers, musicians, dancers, magicians, jugglers and snake charmers.
The Kathputli Colony is also the subject of My Gypsy Colony, a film written by Martine Palmer and filmed by Stéphane Subiela. Puppets Up! is showing the film on Aug. 5 in the Almonte Old Town Hall. Martine, who lives in France, met Puran when she visited the colony 16 years ago. “The place has greatly touched me,” Martine says. “Its artistic mosaic, the magic of its colours, the free spirits of these gypsies and their love of life makes me vibrate.
Martine and Puran formed a bond of friendship and artistic collaboration. Over the years, Martine collected a host of photos and stories about the inhabitants of the Kathputli Colony. In 2010 she learned that Kathputli Colony was being threatened by urbanization and sanitation. Worried that this place full of ancestral art might be destroyed by new city plans, Martine decided to tell the story the colony. She chose to tell the narrative through puppets, and collaborated with Puran to create the documentary film, My Gypsy Colony.
“The idea was to show the history of their traditions, to broadcast their joy despite rudimentary living conditions and demonstrate the enveloping warmth of the gypsy soul,” says Martine.
She will be coming to Almonte from France for the showing. “I am very pleased to come and present the film,” she says. “And thus to publicize the Kathputli Colony, which still exists today. It is India.”
The Aakaar Puppet Theatre is brought to Canada through partnership with the Festival de Casteliers and the Festival India of Ottawa, with special thanks to the generous co-operation of the High Commission of India and the financial sponsorship of the India Council of Cultural Relations.