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How These College Students Are Reviving The Ancient Art Of Puppetry

The students from SRCC college in Delhi started an initiative to help the amazing art form of puppetry, and today they have managed to change the lives of 14 such artists. From connecting the puppeteers with the market to providing training and organizing workshops, this team is transforming the fate of traditional puppeteers. 

We all were away from our homes that Diwali and were missing our family. I remember we were sitting on the rooftop of a puppeteer’s house and those artisans gave us some amazing performances. The night was full of singing, dancing and a lot of fun. I guess it was the best Diwali we ever had,” said Kanupriya Puri, Director, Public Relations, Enactus SRCC.

The families of puppeteers see a new hope in students like Kanupriya who are trying to revive the lost art of puppetry to help them earn a little more than what they usually get.

What started as a small project to help four puppeteers in 2012 has now become a movement which has changed the lives of 14 such artisans so far. All thanks to these students of Shri Ram College of Commerce in Delhi and their initiative Enactus which is helping many communities of artists through its various programmes.

Students of SRCC college are reviving the traditional art of puppetry.
Students of SRCC college are reviving the traditional art of puppetry.

“Puppetry is such a beautiful and colourful art. It is so sad to see that puppeteers are slowly fading away. We should make an effort to bring back this art form. This can be useful both for entertainment and education purposes,” says Puri.

Through their interesting working model of Kayakalp that engages students from first to final year of their graduation course, the team members of Enactus have been trying to bridge the gap between the artists and the audience. Kayakalp has partnered with big brands like Dramabaz Co., Banglanatak Pvt. Ltd., Sutradhar, Sangeet Natak Academy, etc. to organize workshops and training sessions for these traditional puppeteers.

It feels great to get the respect which has been lacking so far,” exclaims Vinay Bhatt, a puppeteer.

He is one of the many puppeteers whose life has changed over the past two years. Puppetry has been their family profession since many generations. Over a period of time, the colourful art started fading away and the artists started struggling to get decent work opportunities.

“We would go to private parties and schools. But response was not so good. We would hardly earn Rs.2,000-Rs.3,000. Also, I guess people were bored of the usual shows, and with changing time, they required something more to the show,” Vinay says.

“As the times are changing, there is a need for better skills and different stories. These workshops help them to gain that expertise. Also, these artists perform mostly at weddings, theme parties, etc. There should be a permanent source of income to provide them livelihood on a regular basis,” says Puri.

The team first started by restructuring the stories.

The revived scripts and interesting story angles have given a whole new set of opportunities to these puppeteers as now they get a chance to showcase their art in schools, communities, residential apartments, etc.

We assist them in mixing both contemporary and modern styles and help them to prepare the show on the themes of current issues which are appreciated more by the audience,” explains Puri.

Not only this, the team also helps them with spoken English, by preparing websites and by marketing their work. Brochures and pamphlets are distributed to get people’s attention.

All this is funded by our various campaigns and competitions, grants and corporate funding. Ours is not an NGO model. It is a social enterprise and we want to make it self-sustainable,” she says.

The Kayakalp team enables the puppeteers to get better work opportunities by connecting them to better clients and training them with various styles of puppetry.
The Kayakalp team enables the puppeteers to get better work opportunities by connecting them to more clients and training them with various styles of puppetry.

What do the puppeteers think about this?

“After the intervention of Kayakalp, we have seen a positive change. Earlier we would work individually but now we have started working in a group. Also, we have learnt new styles of puppetry. We did not know about muppetry earlier, now we can make these dolls ourselves. We also make our own interesting scripts according to our audience and all this has been possible due to the support and guidance of Kayakalp,” says Raju Bhatt, another puppeteer who was already on his way to a show .

The four puppeteers who were part of the pilot project have gained tremendously from this programme. Besides expanding their area of work and learning new skills like ‘muppet’ puppetry, they have also started conducting workshops and sessions for other students which gives them a chance to expand their expertise and also earn an extra income at the same time.

Getting associated with bigger brands has helped them receive an overwhelming response and good media coverage, leading to more show offers. Now we earn at least Rs.5,000 per show. We are more confident and can approach the parties directly. We are getting better contracts, and I guess this is our second innings,” says Vinay.

The team also assists the puppeteers in learning other art forms to support their livelihood.

The idea is to connect these artisans with popular and established groups and help them blend the traditional stories with modern elements so that they have a wider approach,” says Puri.

From four to 14, Kayakalp is gradually impacting the lives of this ignored community of puppeteers. With regular support and more opportunities, this dying art can soon be revived and enjoyed by all. We can’t wait to see the amazing mix of traditional tales with a modern twist.

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