The 15th Ishara International Puppet Festival 2017 held at the India Habitat Centre, Delhi, Gurgaon and Chandigarh recently was a medley of diverse and colorful puppets, characters and stories; some interesting, some engaging while others simply entertaining. Nevertheless, the kids had a great time, especially during weekends when every little one eager to be closest to the enticing vibrant puppets, ended up with their elbows on the low stage literally gaping at the performances. Controlling them was a task every day. Given a chance, they themselves would have taken the stage by storm.

Starting the festival with a burst of confetti and giant dancing puppets and Kutchi Ghodis, the first performance was The Lantern Festival of Taiwan, that despite a language problem, turned out to be entertaining with never a dull moment. Performed by the Chin Fei Feng Marionette Theatre Troupe, the fourth generation of a family into traditional string puppetry, the act included the first woman in Taiwan to take to the craft. It was interesting to watch string puppetry and the intricacies of the art that required much effort and expertise. Though the story was not really clear, the opera styled act with lively music, little dancing dragons, acrobats, a fortune teller, etc. was colourful and vibrant as the opening performance at the fest.

Thereafter, it was a whole week of traditional as well as modern puppetry, some with mixed performances of dance, music, theatre, mime and more.

Titled Theft of Sita, the shadow puppetry from Indonesia was the usual mythological story of Sita haran from The Ramayan. Performed by Sanggar Paripurna Puppet Theater, the musical with dialogues in English by a father-son animated duo as narrators was a mixed media performance with video projections, actors, and dancers. There was nothing captivating about the act as compared to some other performances specifically Roberto White’s “Special Creatures” from Spain. A non-verbal mime act with puppets made of unusual objects like plastic bags and balloons, the act was delightfully entertaining with bird sounds, a clown act, a bird in a cage, and a mother bird and her love for her baby. Peppered with plenty of funny moments and endearing ones, the act engaged the audience to the hilt – children as well as adults.

The virtually new group (a year old into puppetry), Rumi-Balki Company from Afghanistan in collaboration with The Ernst Busch Academy Berlin were refreshing but seemed to lack experience. With Rumi’s work and Persian poetry, the audience expected more out of their performance. Dervish puppets were used sparsely and the act that conveyed a message to free parrots could have been better presented. Directed by Ahmed Nasir Formuli, the act (in English) had some fine acting by all performers.

From Iran Puppet Theatre, the presentation was a story of Mubarak – how he falls in love with the beautiful dancer Tayareh who is wooed by many suitors. Foot tapping music and very colourful string puppets were the highlights of this act.

Home Sweet Home, a performance in English and Arabic directed by Fairouz Nustas was based on two traditional Palestinian folk tales – a fantasy adventure with mischievous puppets. A seven-year-old physically challenged boy is the protagonist. His sadness is visible as children do not like to play with him. His mother gives him a book to read whereby he is transported into a land of wonder where he has happy encounters with new friends. In contrast was Apples and Oranges by the Ishara Puppet Theatre Group from India. Dadi Pudumjee’s non-verbal musical mime was a witty production with three clowns (childlike in their actions) and a puppet that tell you everyday stories of fights and then making up again, of food and of street children aspiring to go to school. It was a funny act and had the clowns entertaining the audience; reminiscent of the clowns we saw in a circus as kids.

From Sweden, the act was titled The Story of the Little Old Man, and was directed by Helena Nilsson. A children’s story by Barbro Lindgren comes to life in this award-winning, inspirational and sensational performance.

The story of a lonely little old man in an unfriendly town is about meeting a big dog that changes his life forever. And when the dog makes another new friend, the old man is worried that it’ll leave him.

Says Dadi Pudumjee, the man behind the fest, “It went off really well. We had new audiences and a new venue in Gurgaon this time. In Chandigarh, the crowds were huge.” It was for the first time that the show went to Lucknow and to the Indian Museum in Kolkatta, he said. “I would like more support coming in from schools and the corporate houses.”

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