Saturday, March 05, 2005

Pulling Strings - Ram Lal

"Man has less freedom today, than puppets!" This statement, from innovative folk puppeteer, Ram Lal from Dehra Dun, dispelled all my notions of a run-of-the-mill interview! 

"People are constrained by too many things today. For some, relationships are binding, For others, responsibilities. People are not free to even speak their mind without drawing flak. But a puppet can freely express itself!" says Ram Lal, who’s in the city to conduct a series of puppetry workshops courtesy Goodbooks. 

Hailing from a 4th generation family of puppeteers from Rajasthan, Ram Lal found that in its traditional form, puppetry with wooden marionettes is tough. Also, the stories were always the same. So, he started working with NGOs, using puppetry, and developed new themes on various issues. As he didn’t find inner growth in this too, he spent 8 years in the Himalayas and is now part of a non-registered non-funded commune called Sanchar in Dehradun.  

"Subsequently, my puppets changed to nature-related ones, as nature is an intrinsic part of life, and cannot be bypassed. However, I stopped writing stories, and now the audience and I collaborate on the story and the issues. There’s a constant debate in the story, and the story evolves based on the decisions of the audience. Even the end is open-ended to enable introspection. However, the end has to make people take that first step forward.",he says. 

For example, in one childrens’ workshop in Rajasthan, the theme of alcoholism was taken up. The session began enactment of an alcoholic husband beating up his wife and kids. The wife then asks the audience how she should handle this issue. The audience makes suggestions, and she weighs the pros and cons of all the options, including asking the bootlegger not to run his business. It finally ends with an audience member summarising the next step. 

Ram Lal visited the UK last year, for what was initially a ten-day workshop, which extended to a 3-month one. On that trip, he had also worked with children with special needs. He cites the example of an extremely introverted child who started expressing himself and sharing his experiences with his parents. 

"For a puppeteer to be effective, he has to be spontaneous. Things that come from the heart reach straight into the audience’s heart. That spontaneity only happens when one’s body, mind and heart are aligned.", says this travel-loving puppeteer, who has already travelled to Norway, Pakistan, Nepal, U.K. , loves Czech puppets and wants to someday open his own puppet museum.

Pic Courtesy Seven Shots, as published in Madras Plus

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