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She pulls strings

Shelly Walia  |  New Delhi 

Shelly Walia meets Ghazal Javed, India’s leading woman muppeteer.

From a regular third year history student at Delhi’s Vekateswara College to the country’s leading muppeteer, it was pure chance that changed the course of Ghazal Javed’s career. It was in 2006 and Javed had bunked a boring lecture to accompany a friend to “some auditions at Hotel Sartaj”. Her attraction was good food, since lunch was to be served to all participants. “Little did I know that I was in for a month-long audition for Sesame Street, after which I would be selected for the lead role of the India chapter’s debut production, beating over 5,000 contenders,” she recounts with a smile. It was here too that she met Martin P Robinson, the renowned puppeteer of Sesame Street, who introduced her to the world of “muppets” (a mix of “marionette” and “puppet”, which is now a Walt Disney trademark) and gave her a formal training of sorts.

Javed plays the lead character of five-year-old Chamki in Galli Galli Sim Sim, Sesame India’s adaptation of the famous American TV series which debuted in 2006, was viewed by as many as 1.2 million children and has had five seasons already.

“There is no better feeling than living your childhood all over again. On the sets of Galli Galli Sim Sim, we had children visiting us all the time who wanted to talk with Chamki,” she says.

“I did not realise how big it meant to be the brand ambassador of Sesame Street’s Indian version,” she says. Her muppet Chamki, dressed in a typical blue and white school uniform, represents any school-going child of the country. “The technique we use is of hand or glove puppets combined with rod puppetry, where the movements are manipulated with the hands. It requires a lot of practice to be able to match the hand movements with voice,” she adds.

Initially, it wasn’t easy combining college with a career. “I used to finish my classes and run for the shoot. During exams, I carried my books to the studio. I would learn the script and study for my exams simultaneously,” she laughs. “We shot for 18 hours a day. Of course, I scored real bad in my third year, but I don’t regret it,” she adds.

Javed now works as Senior Muppet Consultant with Sesame Workshop, teaching puppetry to street children and organising workshops. She is also associated with a Sesame Workshop India radio show, of which 30 episodes have already been recorded.

Another venture is her own “tuppet”company, J&S Entertainments, which produces fictional and non-fictional content for television, theatre and films. “During the cricket World Cup, I scripted and acted in the puppet show, ‘Funda Matlab Piddu Bola’. It was a spoof on the cricket world cup, and aired on several channels,” she says.

Another project is “All About Tuppets”, which is a collaboration with the NGO Borderless World Foundation, to Kashmir for a month in July, living in an orphanage with 25-odd children. She now plans to conduct a month-long workshop for these children in Delhi. “Kashmir has no history of puppets. We are planning to bring these children to do experimental plays here, which will be an expression of their angst,” Javed says.

“I have also made a documentary on the Kashmiri children, which will be screened at film festivals soon,” she smiles.

Javed is currently working on a puppet stage adaptation of The Wizard of Oz. She is also a freelance voiceover artist and scriptwriter.

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First Published: Sat, November 19 2011. 00:44 IST