A grumpy, rugged-looking kabadiwallah walks down the passageway between seated audience and dumps all his kabad of old newspapers on the stage. He stares at the mass of mangled papers vengefully for a while and then goes away.
For a few minutes, there is silence, almost as if in anticipation, and then mysteriously, the mound of papers starts to breathe. Gradually, it rises, like a balloon being pumped up, and then bursts open, delivering several creepy crawlies, big and small.
These are men and women, wearing masks with bulging white eyes, plastic bottles
attached to their limbs and moving about and quivering like insects. The large ones fight pitched battles to gain supremacy. The small ones then appear in a drove to
attack the ‘giant victor,’ conquer and drag it away to their nest for a meal.
Welcome to Life in progress – Katkatha Puppet Arts Trust’s latest production and the new face of puppet theatre in India. There are no ‘puppet dolls’ here, no long-winded storylines and no decorative stage setting. Everyday objects like masks and newspapers, combined with a deft acting cum puppeteering, create changing landscapes, creatures and smatterings of a narrative. Extremely unusual and yet highly effective.
Anurupa Roy, director, Katkatha Puppet Arts Trust informs us, “For the last 15 years, we have been performing traditional puppetry – using a storyline, props and puppets. For the past some time though, we had started to feel very dissatisfied, we wanted to break free of this structure and create something completely new. We asked ourselves: What is puppetry? Putting life into dead material, animating the inanimate. So why does it ‘have’ to be a doll?”
“For two summers, we just played with random objects - exploring their sounds,
textures, images and forms. We desperately avoided any guiding script and allowed the
material to lead us. At the end of all the goofing around, we had a video footage of about 160 hours and culled the most relevant images from there. Life in progress was born – a puppet theatre sans any text or words.”
Life in progress may lack a pre-determined script but it is not incoherent or incomprehensible. After the insects have consumed each other, the garbage gives birth to another kind – humans. A background score of cars honking, Metro announcements and mobile rings plays. The men and women, in goggles and straight, emotionless faces, start to run.
Each one is trying to overtake the other. When a woman is threatened by a man, she uses an air kiss to ‘blow him away.’ When a man gets ahead, two other men behind him ‘collude’ to shove him out. One of the two then develops ‘creepy-crawly tendencies,’ whips out a small knife and stabs the other ‘out of the race.’ Nevertheless, the race goes on.
One doesn’t need to be ‘informed’ that the troupe includes dancers and choreographers. The sharp, robotic movements, excellent coordination between troupe members and fantastic accompanying music gives it away.
Merril Diniz, a viewer exclaimed, “I have never seen anything like this. This is a radical treatment to puppetry, conceptually edgy and neatly executed. The actors themselves are the puppets and I loved the metaphors for life.
It lives up to its name – Life in progress.”