Sunday, November 16, 2014

Interview with Anupama Hoskere

Anupama Hoskere is the Founder of Dhaatu, a non-profit organization that seeks to introduce our children to traditional wisdom and tales through puppetry.   

Every year during Navratri, Dhaatu hosts puppet shows, classical dance performances and storytelling sessions. The doors of Dhaatu are thrown open to the public for a month – we get to feast our eyes on a fabulous doll display featuring hundreds of tales from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Popular exhibits include a three-foot Kumbhakarna, a rotating chakravyuh and a scene from the battlefield at Kurukshetra. Dhaatu also organises puppetry workshops for children and adults.    

Dhaatu was awarded the best performance at the Nanchong International Puppet Festival in China. Closer home, the team has held shows at the Hampi Festival, the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) in Bangalore, Chitra Kala Parishath, Bengaluru Metro Rangoli and the Svanubhava Festival, among others.   

Earlier this year, Ms. Anupama Hoskere was on an invitation program at universities in Paris, Brussels and Nice, teaching a course on traditional and classical puppetry of India. A pleasure to have her here with us.    

ST: Stories capture the audience’s imagination and stimulate our senses. Can you tell us a bit about storytelling through the medium of puppet theatre?
All of Indian performing arts are mediums of story-telling.  Communication with aesthetics and finesse is the key in puppetry.  Here, even though the puppets are small, the puppet  characters when played become larger than life and fire the imagination. String puppetry is three- dimensional.  The inanimate objects come alive and present themselves to delight the audience.  It becomes an unforgettable experience for one and all. Even though everybody knows they are not alive, the audience is moved to tears.

The medium has restrictions of communicating emotions while it has the privilege of creating any magical situation on stage with ease.  Restriction of emotions can be overcome by working on movement of puppets, voice modulation and with the right music.  

How far can we trace the history of the art form in India? What are the earliest references in literature?

In India one can say puppetry has been there as long as there has been civilization. There is a reference to a string puppeteer (referred to as an entertainer) pulling at the strings and playing the puppet – this analogy is given in Bhagavatha when Rukmini elopes with Krishna. Jarasandha says this to Shishupala.

ಯಥಾ ದಾರುಮಯೀ ಯೋಷಿನ್ನೃತ್ಯತೇ ಕುಹಕೇಚ್ಛಯಾ |
ಏವಮೀಶ್ವರತನ್ತ್ರೋಽಯಮೀಹತೇ ಸುಖದುಃಖಯೊಃ ||
Yathaa Dhaarumayi Yoshinrthyathae kuhakaechhayaa |
Evamishvarathanthroyamihathae sukhadukhayo ||
Bhaagavatha 10th Skanda, 55th Adhyaaya, 12th Shloka

There are also references to Chhayaa Naataka in Sanskrit theatre and in the Mahabharata. So with today’s dating systems we can say it was well-established three to four thousand years ago.

(NID interviews Anupama Hoskere)    

What is the role of puppetry in telling historical tales? Your production, ‘Vijayanagara Vaibhava’, comes to mind.
Indian art believes in a stylised representation.  Ramayana and Mahabharata are historical epics, works of fantastic literature which is so well-written that it lends itself perfectly for stage presentation.  This is the genius of the system.

Puppetry is no different. Where there is enough content to create the magic required, it adapts.  Here I will say where there is rasa, there is a good puppet show.

Speaking of Vijayanagara Vaibhava, I was fascinated by the mountains, the river Tunga, the Seeta seragu, Anjanadri Beeta, Mahanavami Dibba, the temples and the Bazaar street ,stone plates, the dancing sculptures outside Hazara Rama Temple of Hampi. I had to represent this civilisation in all its grandeur in a puppet show; I could have no peace until I did.

Also, ours is a living tradition.  Nothing is ever lost.  It modifies and integrates with society.  There is continuous change but never an end.  This is why we brought the Wodeyars and then the people of Karnataka into the show.

You can watch this show on Jan 4 2015 at 6:30 p.m. at the J.S.S auditorium in South Bangalore.  

We would love to hear the story behind Dhaatu. How did it come about?
I was doing dance choreography with children.  I realised they had little knowledge about Bharata and its roots. It is one thing to know about something and reject it. But it is not smart to reject something without knowing how useful it is.  I realised children were not being given life education and if this young generation grew up without an influence of their roots, survival would be an issue.

I was choreographing dance and working with children.  I realised they were grammatically very good but the core was missing. This is what we call the sattva. This comes with an understanding of why we do things the way we do to begin with and goes on to the question who am I. I realised the simplest way of giving this to the children is through the epics.

The Ramayana and Mahabharata are very entertaining and useful tools to connect with and understand this diverse nation of ours.  Dhaatu which means the roots, the sub-stratum, the all-pervasive was started by Vidyashankar and me to address this need.

Puppetry began as the sugar-coating on the pill.  But I was soon in love with it.  I trained in India and in Prague. I realised the potential of the art-form.  I experienced success; there was appreciation from the audience.  Alas, our society does not know about how useful this art form can be.    

From conceptualization of the show to creating the puppets, scripting and music – what is the creative process like?
It is similar to cinema.  Plot needs to be good. Good dialogues will be appreciated.  We need fine actors (puppets), good music, dance and the right proportion of emotions.  Here we need to picturise each scene with the props, the settings, movement and the take-home for the audience.  Detailing with practice will yield a good show. As the audience at large are used to good music and presentation, we need to create on par work as far as music and lighting go. 

We typically start with a good story, dwell on it till there is clarity of concept, philosophy, presentation and characters. Movements of characters are defined.  The design of puppets is made in accordance with these characters. For example, it may be a dancer, a flying monk or a disintegrating puppet. Suitable wood is chosen - faces are carved, body parts are usually done on the lathe and finished by hand-carving.  The puppets are painted, stringing is done, tested for movement, controls are designed and tested. It is costumed and put together for performance. Individually characters are rehearsed to rhythmic beats and many players come together to do a show.

In the meanwhile, the director gets the soundtrack recorded in the studio along with all the music bits. After rehearsals, final editing of the track is done.  Props and back-drops are created. Special effects of lighting are introduced. A month of rehearsal is required for a performance after this stage. We also need to train the curtain managers.

The whole process takes about a year.    

Can you point our readers to puppet museums in India and abroad? Any online resources that you would recommend?
Puppet museums in India will be a thing of the future.  Of course, we have a small gallery of about 500 puppets at Dhaatu in Bangalore which people are welcome to see.  There are nice museums in Prague (privately owned), Royal Peruchet theatre in Brussels, TOPIC in Tolosa, Spain is a very small town working on a very big dream of puppetry.    

Please tell us about your experience teaching and performing abroad. Is there considerable interest in the field around the world? How different is it, specifically with respect to funding and grants?
Answering the second question first, funding for arts is always difficult all around the world, especially if it is traditional work. Grants are there if arts serve the grantee’s purpose.  As I do arts for arts’ sake and have refused to play second fiddle to corporations’ agenda, I can say we have none so far.

I taught in the university environment.  It is nice to educate young minds about different art forms, cultures and traditions.  Students who had no clue about India, her culture, philosophy and roots found it easy to understand when they learnt about the process of converting two stories from Panchatantra into puppet shows.  They also learnt how to play the puppets.

This way they could understand the process of creation of the show, its reasoning and stylised representation.

There is a lot of curiosity and respect for Indian puppetry around the world.    

What is your vision for the future?
Puppetry is a beautiful means of communication.  It is one of the most ancient art forms of India. The average Indian needs to know and appreciate the diversity of this art-form. We need puppet academies, puppet stores where people can buy puppets and create their own shows and a puppet museum with a performance centre. Every city in India needs this.    

Please share details about the International Puppet Festival that Dhaatu is organising.
Dhaatu International Puppet Festival 2015 will be held at the JSS Auditorium in Bangalore on 2nd, 3rd and 4th of January.

-    9 am to 1 pm The festival will have conferences with paper presentation on the aspects of story-telling, literature, music and dance, design, emotions and techniques in puppetry by eminent scholars and artists from all over the world.
Entry by registration

-    3 pm to 5 pm
There will be corridor performances presenting artists from rural India, explaining their methodologies and techniques with public interaction
Entry free

-    5:30 pm to 8pm
Spectacular puppet theatre performances

- Dhaatu Puppet Parade on Jan 1 2015 from Dhaatu premises at Banashankari 2nd stage involving all from the city 

- Inauguration of puppet performance space 2 pm onwards
-  Inauguration of Dhaatu Puppet Bus-stop on KR Road, showcasing wooden puppets and history of puppets in Karnataka
- Heritage puppet display at the Kempegowda International Airport from Dec 15 - Jan 15
- Curtain raiser on 30th Dec at the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) with a very special premiere puppet show of Queen Chudala, a story from Yoga Vashista by Dhaatu Puppet Theater
All are welcome.

For details, please see the events calendar at In case of any queries, please send an email to

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