Written by Indira Ganesh
Whosoever thought of shadow puppets as boring and clichéd movements of leather figurines against an illuminated backdrop would have been so jolted out of their complacence on seeing the Hunan shadow puppet show from China at Kamani Auditorium. What transpired during the show was sheer magic with expert hand movements and excellent team co-ordination.
Seven short stories were shown with an unmistakable Pan Asian flavour with a vibrant sound track supporting the stories. They looked like any good animation movie on the television replete with humor and valuable hidden messages. It was heartening to see that the children really enjoyed the show and the adults chorused along with them in their laughter. The back drops were beautiful and the scenery changed with every story. It took the team a few minutes to change the settings, making transition between narratives almost seamless. The stories largely used animal characters like the Indian Panchatantra and Jataka tales. Unfortunately some stereotypes prevailed like the fox being wily and untruthful, the black crow as someone stupid, the fat characters were all lazy, etc.
But these small elements apart, the show was engaging and entertaining. They relied on pre-recorded music instead of dialogues giving them a very universal appeal. The performing team however added their own sound effects to weave their magic. Unlike in other parts of the world, all the shadow puppets were not made of leather and hide. Some of them were made of polymers as well. There were contraptions to make the eyes and jaws move making the puppets quite life like. They had multiple joints which made them have supple graceful movements unlike other puppets of this genre. Multiple puppets were used for the same character to show transition. Size of the characters were altered to give a perception of distance and depth.
All in all, one was suffused with a wonderful feeling of having been through a good story telling session. What happened onstage looked like a finely orchestrated show and was quite riveting. But then there is always a curious somebody who is more intrigued by how it was being put together. Remember the boys from kindergarden who would take every toy apart? After a grueling motivational interaction with students for almost five hours, Sreeni managed to find the energy to play peeping Tom. He went backstage to catch the frenetic activity of the puppeteers. He observed how more than three pairs of hands at times co-ordinated a single seamless movement on screen.
The barometer for measuring any good show with mallika is to see how badly my lap aches after the show. With all her squeals and jumping, I almost needed painkillers. After the show, she was adamant on meeting the team. The Puppeteers who hardly spoke a word of English had no problems connecting with the two children who ventured back stage after the show. They were very patient with the two children, urging them to try the puppets and encouraging them when they got a movement right. After all, so many things are so very universal like the joy of a tale well told and love for the little ones.