Delhi’s Ishara puppet festival has a Russian touch

Since 2001, theatres from 90 countries have participated in the Ishara International Puppet Theatre Festival. Source: Alexander Tomas

Since 2001, theatres from 90 countries have participated in the Ishara International Puppet Theatre Festival. Source: Alexander Tomas

Besides an Iranian rendition of Sadko to open the festival, ‘Masha and the Bear,’ is being performed by the Moscow Regional State Puppet Theatre.

Puppet theatres from seven countries are taking part in the Ishara International Puppet Theatre Festival. Groups have come to the Indian capital from countries as far away as Italy, Israel, Iran and Bulgaria, but this year’s opening had a distinctly Russian flavour.  The curtain-raiser was a show from an Iranian group that was inspired by Sadko, an important character in the Russian medieval epic ‘Bylina.’

“I read Sadko but to us it is an international tale rather than a national epic,” says Iranian director Hossein Cheraghi. “In Iran, the story is called ‘The Musician Who Played the Moon,’ and the main character plays the reed instead of the gusli.”

The Iranian Sadko is also a poor musician who works at big parties and grows rich by chance, owing to a meeting with the King of the Sea. In the Iranian version, Sadko wears golden glasses and looks like an old version of Superman, albeit as generous as the character of the Russian fairy-tale, who is ready to party round the clock to the fiery tunes of Russian dancing songs.

Photo by Alexander Tomas

The Ishara International Puppet Theatre Festival was first held in 2001 and became an annual event. Since 2001, theatres from 90 countries have participated in the festival. There are plans to increase the number of participants further.

“Each year, interest in the festival grows”, says leading Indian puppeteer and head of the Ishara festival, Dadi Pudumjee. “Groups have already applied for next year. The idea is to give a platform to both modern and traditional puppet theatre. It would be nice if more performances and groups from Russia and other CIS countries were to come. We are open to them and ready to provide hospitality and technical care.”

Russia is represented this year by one of the oldest puppet theatres in the country, the Moscow Regional State Puppet Theatre, established back in 1933. The theatre is performing ‘Masha and the Bear,’ based on the famous fairy-tale Goldilocks. The theatre has already toured with the show in Bulgaria and Serbia. ‘Masha and the Bear’ has been specially translated into English for the audience in Delhi.

Photo by Alexander Tomas

“We were invited to participate by the festival’s head Dadi Pudumjee. We met during a puppet theatre festival in Armenia, where we won the Grand Prix.” said Acting Director of the Russian theatre Rita Grigoryan. “We haven’t seen much of India yet, except the Taj Mahal in Agra, but we already love it here. The country is exotic and its people are hospitable.”

The Russian show was supposed to open the festival but, by a twist of fate (and a decision of Customs), their Indian debut had to be postponed for a few days. The company took several days to recover the stage set, delivered by a freight plane. The theatre is performing at Gurgaon's Epicentre on April 10 and in Chandigarh’s Tagore Theatre on April 13.

India will show three plays at the festival: ‘Dhola Maru’ and ‘Ravan Chhaya,’ produced by companies from Rajasthan and Orissa, respectively, and ‘Heer Ke Waris,’ which will close the festival.  The closing play was produced by Pudumjee himself; the actors are the staff of the Ishara Puppet Theatre Trust, which organises the event.

The Ishara International Puppet Theatre Festival will run until April 16.

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