In conversation with Sampa Ghosh, a puppeteer from Delhi
Q: WHAT WORK DOES CCRT DO WITH PUPPETRY ??
Under the teacher training programme for all government school teachers, Centre for Cultural Resources and Training (CCRT) undertakes 10/12 day workshops with teachers to make them understand the role of puppetry in education. Mostly primary school teachers are called and taught to make low cost puppets (rod, hand, finger, and glove) and 2 years hence, same teachers are called for a refresher course and are then taught string puppets. These workshops are conducted all over the country and seek to promote the use of puppetry as an educational aid.
Q: WHEN AND HOW DID YOU START PUPPETRY ??
I was inclined towards arts and especially craft. After my B.Ed exam, one of my mothers’ friends who was a mime artist suggested that I work for a while under Suresh Datta in his group Calcutta Puppet Theatre. There I learnt puppetry, and started reading a lot about puppetry. In the 1980s I even got Ministry of Culture’s Young Scholarship. I went along with Suresh Datta for his research about puppet forms in north east India for his fellowship. That was quite an experience for me. I came to Delhi and joined Shri Ram Centre puppet repertory for 2 years after Dadi Pudumjee left, and in 1989 I joined CCRT and have been here since then. For a short while in between I had started Delhi Puppets Theatre, but closed that down soon.
Usually contemporary puppeteers use all styles of puppetry, but I mainly do glove and rod puppetry. I’ve been inspired majorly by my guru Suresh Datta and his style of rod puppets.
Recently I sought to writing about puppetry. I even maintain a website that contains a lot of information. I received a senior scholarship in 2001 for creating and maintaining this website. I believe that there needs to be documentation about groups and their work, traditional forms, etc. It’s not only advantageous to the puppeteers themselves but even to the researchers, students, scholars, etc. My first book was in 2005 for beginners, called ‘Make your own Puppet’. Then ‘Indian Puppets’ was written in 2006 and ‘Puppet Stories’ was written in 2007.
Q: WHY DO YOU THINK PUPPETRY IS STILL ONE OF THE LESSER KNOWN AND ACCEPTED ARTS ??
In India, though the standards of contemporary puppetry are good, only traditional puppetry sells abroad. And the traditional artists in India are fading into oblivion, save the occasional impetus given to a few forms by the SNA.
This medium is extremely powerful for children. They enjoy the creative aspect of puppetry, including making the puppet. But there are no regular puppetry shows for children. Children are an audience that will readily accept and happily enjoy puppet shows, but there are hardly any puppet shows, out of that rarely are shows made just for children. Shri Ram centre in my time used to do some work in this regard, but once that closed down there was a lull for a long time. Calcutta as compared to Delhi, is more vibrant as it has almost 10/12 puppet theatres and lots of shows every year. Every office there has a recreation group, where puppet groups used to often perform.
The standards of even the children’s workshops are bad. Some of them just take a handkerchief with a ball on a stick and wave it in the name of puppetry!
Even regular puppet shows for a general audience is very little. It sponsors are more than the people offering shows. And just very few out of the existing ones do quality work Its very important to know the grammar of puppetry. Then again, unless we watch puppet shows, how will we know the difference in quality?
Q DOES THE FUTURE OF PUPPETRY LOOK BRIGHT ??
There definitely is increased awareness about puppets, and people are ready to accept it as an art form in itself. Thanks to two really famous TV shows, people are familiar with puppets too. The workshops undertaken by CCRT are also having a multiplying affect as 30 odd districts have puppetry trained teachers now. The only thing that is very essential now is a proper centre that teaches puppetry, has a museum, undertakes training, etc, on the lines of the centre at Sri Lanka and Pakistan.