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Strings Attached

The traditional art form of puppetry, or Kathputli naach, is making a comeback in Bengal, thanks to the artists adopting modern means to infuse a new life into the age-old art.

Jimmy Arora

The traditional art of Putul Nach, or doll dance as it’s called in West Bengal, Tripura and Assam, maybe a long way from regaining its popularity, but the artisans feel that a beginning has been made. The art, which finds a mention in the medieval folk ballads of undivided Bengal, was traditionally rod and glove puppets. But now it’s giving way to string puppetry imported from neighbouring Bangladesh. String puppets, originally manipulated with strings or wire, are mostly found in Nadia district, around a 100 km from Kolkata. Another big change is that the artisans are no longer dependent on mythological stories of Ramayana, Mahabharata and Panchatantra to draw audiences. Instead, they base their acts on contemporary issues to attract crowds, especially the younger generation. “We realise that change is the only constant,” informs Narayan Chandra Rai, who lives in Nadia’s Muragacha colony, the birthplace of puppetry art in the state. “We are not trying to do away with mythological stories that have been our age-old forte and are still a crowd puller. But we have been infusing our plays with contemporary issues like creating awareness on traffic rules and importance of wearing helmets.

We are also writing plays on dowry and other burning issues. It serves the dual purpose of creating awareness and entertaining people.” Almost every household in Muragacha was involved in puppetry till two decades ago ranging from making puppets to giving performances. But the advent of television coupled with losing interest of people sounded the virtual death bell for the art. Amolya Rai, a puppetry artist for more than four decades, recounts that there were around 381 families in the village that were involved in puppetry in 1980s.

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Feb - April 2018

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