To many, puppetry is all about traditional marionettes of Rajasthan, the Kathputlis, or other rod, string, glove and shadow puppets from across the country. Yet, contemporary Indian puppeteers are now experimenting with junk, newspaper strips, plastic and other materials.
Such is the story of a new material theatre production "Life in Progress" by Katkatha, a Delhi-based Puppet Arts Trust, which uses the medium of puppets to delve into the culture of trash.
"We played with all forms of trash we could possibly find. There were bundles of newspapers, plastic bottles and other junk we would experiment with. For several months we would just play, trying to create impressions from the trash, to bring out a form of art which would reflect upon the contemporary scenario," says Anurupa Roy, Managing Trustee, Katkatha.
The production team comprising nine enthusiastic puppeteers "played around with trash, trying to create a technique which would steer away from the conventional forms of puppetry."
For more than six months, these enthusiasts only played with junk and recorded video footage of more than 200 hours of their puppets in action.
"Life in Progress" a one-hour improvised puppetry act began to shape up.
"The idea simply was to bring life to dead material. We not only wanted to work with the figure of the puppet but its philosophy too. And it was also for the first time when we did not have real puppets, it was only the impression of puppet we were working with," says Anurupa.
The improvised form of material theatre can be best visualised with nine people under a giant sheet of newspaper, possibly of dimensions 30ft by 30 ft, changing shapes, simulating jelly fish-like and dinosauresque creatures.
The act put up by the group is devoid of any narrative, script or even music.
"It is not based on a script, although there are elements of dance and some sound effects (made by trash such as bottles) to it but it is mostly about the sounds created by movements under paper. Many members are trained dancers and thus, every movement has been carefully choreographed. Yet, it is inherently about the visuals that audience can see," she says.