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Anupama Hoskere has perfected the art of storytelling using puppets at Dhaatu, where she also organizes classes for those who want to learn this ancient art.
Puppetry as an ancient form of storytelling has survived thanks to the efforts by passionate puppeteers who feel it is more than just dolls or child’s play.
One among these is Anupama Hoskere through her organization Dhaatu, who has for over two decades relentlessly tried to revive the traditional art form of puppetry. She does this by practicing, organizing puppetry classes and getting well known puppeteers across the world together during unique festivals in Bangalore.
Anupama is also a trained Bharatnatyam dancer, a passionate gardener and a mother too, among the list of roles that she loves to play in life.
As I reached the Dhaatu, the non profit organization and the home of Anupama, I am surprised to see a few large puppets outside on the street. There was even a chariot among these life size puppets right outside Dhaatu, located in South Bangalore. I am later to given to believe these are utilized during Dhaatu parades and processions during important festivals like Navratri and during puppetry festivals.
Anupama guided me to her studio space that is neatly tucked in her home as the basement space leading to a huge arena for artisans and puppets. There were many puppets largely based on Indian epics, and I had begin to feel that a few puppets were gazing at me as though it would take me some time to understand the work done here.
Anupama began the conversation saying “This is my space”. The space reminded me of the aura in temples and the sanctity or the divinity associated with such spaces.
Anupama said, “I have done my engineering and completed my masters in computers. I also have a fellowship in puppetry. I had started to work as an engineer but soon started to question myself on the traditions, texts, scriptures –my understanding of the same and what I would pass on to the further generations. The answer came to me that I have loved dolls, puppets and had on my own with guidance like from veterans like Sri M. R. Ranganth Rao learnt to create puppets. I then wanted to focus and move step by step.
I started out from scratch on behalf of Dhaatu as an organization. We have been doing puppetry in English, Kannada and in Sanskrit. My team has performed in Brussels, Paris and across the globe and within the country. We have been recognized as one of those who organize International puppetry festivals and during Navratri we have our designated shows.”
Anupama recollects an inspiring show in Prague that had got her fascinated and even to this day she feels learning is a continuous process.
“I lost my father early in life and it was my mother and grandmother who would encourage me to work with my dolls. Music, dance, studies, dolls have all been there in my growing up years. It was never the question of one over the other.”
When I ask her if she feels that the parenting style has changed for the children of this generation, she says, “It depends on the parents. It is how you can manage of giving the right exposure to the child while be careful of not involving the child in unnecessary extra curricular activities and burdening the child.”
“I have been blessed with three children and they have stood with me along with my husband when I am immersed in the world of these puppets. They have seen work for hours together and helped me to organize my schedules. I was never pressurized to be a puppeteer; I chose the stream as I was fascinated with them. My children have seen me through and grown up with these puppets. It has all along been part of their lives. For me it was learning from scratch- I had to figure out methods of making puppets and wanted to grow with them. For my children puppets have always been there in their life.”
When asked if she has an emotional attachment to every puppet she makes, she mentions, “I am deeply connected to them – yes of course.”
“All the time I am thinking of how to create perfect show. Our last international puppetry show was an astounding success with three days of shows from acclaimed puppeteers across the world and workshops. By the time we are able enough to recover from the exhaustion of work done for a show, its time to do the spade work for the next year’s event .” she says with a glint of smile.
I question Anupama why she has not been charging the audience for puppetry festivals, she admits, “I have to work out a model for how we can sustain this form in long term but for the festivals I am more than happy when people come and enjoy the art experience. The entire neighbourhood turns into a festival when we organize these events. There is theater, workshops, classes, parades, processions and so much grandeur. We have had processions with larger than life size puppets and many volunteers come forward to help us, yet I do feel we need more help in organizing the events and spreading the word of what we do.
I truly want to teach at least 100 children who can take active interest in puppetry and take this forward. We have done shows involving stories written by Valmiki, Vyasa, Panchatantra, Kalidasa and many more.
Personally I do feel children need to be exposed to arts and it is essential to make them happy individuals. I do believe art forms like puppetry can make children involved, focused and happy too. I also desire for a space like a museum that can showcase the puppets for larger audiences.” she says before going into a few moments of silence.
As we proceed with our conversation Anupama takes a break to meet one of her team members. And I glanced
around to see the works of half done wooden dolls, long tables for the workshop, tools around.
Soon Anupama guided me to see the huge space which houses wooden puppets, many of them strung from rods and it seems a puppet world altogether. There is also the separate designated space for puppet theater at the entrance of her studio space to conduct puppetry storytelling performances.
As we were winding up our meeting, I was asked if I would want to visit a bus stop near Dhaatu, a space that has been granted by the city corporation to accommodate large puppets. I did manage to see the bus stop that have the puppets but the passengers waiting at the stop or those passing by perhaps are really not aware of the legacy of these puppets.
It is perhaps not just the neighbourhood that Anupama has now begun to affect with her art form, but a larger audience involving the entire city population. It seems as though she has always strayed away from the limelight to the extent possible but she does want to reach out to larger audiences now as an immediate goal.
She also mentioned how she prefers her identity as a puppeteer rather than a woman puppeteer. It is indeed inspiring that an individual has managed to choose a varied profession and she has been continuing with the same regardless of who rode with her in the journey or not.
For details on Dhaatu and summer camps, please visit dhaatupuppettheater.com.
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Images source: Reshma Krishnamurthy Sharma.