There's nothing unusual about a sold-out evening at Gurgaon'sEpicentre. And yet, the full-house for Wednesday's event was somewhat unexpected. When all the seats ran out, the aisles began to fill with people while disappointed families were turned away from the ticket area.
Inside the auditorium, the audiences - mostlychildren - evinced a level of engagement rarely seen in live performances these days. What were they all here to see? A story of a young girl and a bear - two lives enacted by human hands bearing puppets.
Puppet theatre might well have been the most ancient of narrative forms, prefiguring even the early dramatists and stage actors. And time hasn't made the art of puppetry any easier. Even for those invisible hands that effortlessly presented the Russian folktale 'Masha and the Bear' on Wednesday, expertise didn't directly translate into smooth-running. Every show presents a different challenge. The challenge here in Gurgaon was language. The troupe from Moscow had troubles speaking English, which naturally resulted in longer-than-usual pre-show checks.
The Moscow Regional Puppet Theatre was founded about eighty years ago, and this was its first visit to India. "Before Gurgaon, we performed in Delhi. The response was very good there too," said Rita S Grigoryan, the director of the act, who has been with the group for the last ten years. The six-member team is part of the Ishara International Puppet Festival and will be playing Chandigarh on April 13, before flying back to Moscow.
Nicolai Afanasiev has been with the troupe for four years now. Besides being in charge of the light-console up at the control-room, he has also been playing the ad-hoc language interpreter for the rest of his colleagues. "The show is based on a girl that gets lost in the jungle and then finds a bear's house," he said. Like the stage-setup, the storyline only comes across as simplistic, until you get to its real emotional import, with the tale's central themes of loneliness and imprisonment being anything but simple.
The troupe has earlier performed the same show in the US and several other East European countries. Grigoryan said shows are held weekly in the Russian capital, to much acclaim.
"It's not easy. Believe me. Especially the performance with the puppets on stage is very, very tough. It requires real skill," Nocolai, who quit his 'office job' to join puppet theatre, said. The hutment-like structure on the stage is where the action takes place. The puppets - the bear and the little girl - are controlled by crouching puppeteers, who follow the audio-track, a translated version of which was played out at the Epicentre.
Getting the dynamism right, in puppet theatre, is only half the job done. It's even more difficult when the puppeteer tries to evoke gentler emotions - like pity - in the viewer, as those behind 'Masha and the Bear' were so successfully able to do. Nicolai said, "Puppet theatre is difficult mainly because of what the puppeteer is trying to do. And what the puppeteer is really trying to do is to make the puppet look alive."Vineet GillVineet Gill, TNN | Apr 11, 2013