By M.V.Ramakrishnan

Friday, August 5, 2016

When Amazing Australian Puppets Performed In Awesome Indian Setting

I don't have a written record of my impressions of the dynamic folk dancers of the Moiseyev Ballet from Moscow in New Delhi's colossal open-air auditorium Rabindra Rangshala in 1972 (which I had  mentioned in the preceding blog) ;  but I do have my reflections on the amazing puppets of the Marionette Theatre from Australia which performed in the same awesome venue a few years later :-

Glossary & annotations

Rabindra Rangshala  -- Colossal outdoor amphitheater on lush woodlands on the fringes of New Delhi (capacity 8,000), named after Rabindranath Tagore, world-famous poet in Bengali language.

Connaught Circus  --  Huge circle of imposing British-era mercantile buildings (with tall-pillared corridors reminiscent of London's Regent Street), surrounding circular open-air space called Connaught Place, in New Delhi.   The high-rise buildings were a late-20th century phenomenon.

Evening News,
New Delhi
26 March 1976

Puppets on the ridge

When a puppet-show has achieved international fame, it signifies that an elementary art form has been transformed into a sophisticated technology, and it deserves a vast audience and an auditorium to match.

It wasn't surprising, therefore, when I learnt several months ago that representatives of the Marionette Theater of Australia were in New Delhi, inspecting the Rabindra Rangshala on Ridge Road, as a prelude to their performance of the puppet drama The Tintookies , which took place on March 24th and 25th.

My only complaint about the Rabindra Rangshala is that it is far away from the mainstream of metropolitan life, and is connected by a narrow road where regular bus services are few and it isn't safe at night.

But obviously this location will be more accessible in the foreseeable future, as areas under it are developed, and a wider and better-lighted road is laid.

Open-air wonder

Viewed from any angle, this open-air auditorium is a wonder.  It is structured into a vast, deep pit, with galleries which can hold five or six thousand people.  The design is superb, with widely-curving and steeply sloping rows of red-stone slabs (which serve as steps as well as seats), ensuring maximum visibility of the stage.

The acoustics are splendid, too, the sound being preserved by the high walls of the pit.  Yet the open air is very much there.

It's a long and many-stepped descent from the gate to the auditorium.  As you proceed you have a breath-taking view of the high-rise buildings of Connaught Circus far away, and you feel you are in some fashionable European city.

And a show like The Tintookies attracts an international audience, which enhances this impression.

Magic and mystery

Certainly any show which is staged in this gigantic auditorium has to have some unusual dimension if it is to be impressive.  And the Marionette show has that extra something which counts. 

The fairy-tale behind this puppet drama isn't much of a story.  There are The Tintookies, a magic people, some cute jungle animals, a pixie man, a magician, many magic effects, a balloon flight and a dream sequence.

The leaflet which was distributed didn't tell the story clearly, but that hardly mattered.  The important thing was the amazing dexterity of the puppet-masters, which didn't call for any commentary.

There wasn't a trick of the trade which was omitted.  The gesticulations of the puppets and the movements of their lips as they spoke were truly remarkable.  Even the silent fish were opening and closing their mouths constantly in an uncanny way.

Often a dozen or more life-size puppets occupied the stage and performed incredible antics.  How all those strings remained in position without getting entangled in a messy knot was a mystery.

Spellbinding shows

There were thousands of wildly enthusiastic children in the gathering, but the adults became adoring spectators too.  Here were a couple of hours of sheer fantasy, with some good background music, and a highly developed technology for you to marvel about.

The Indian Cultural Society and the Education Ministry's Culture Department must be congratulated for organizing this remarkable show, and we must thank the Australians sincerely for coming over and performing here.

Last time I spent a couple of spellbinding hours like this at Rabindra Rangshala was in 1972, When the Culture Department had invited the Moiseyev Ballet from Moscow.  I hope such exciting experiences will be frequent in the future.

PostScript, 2016

Tragic turns :  dis-use and dissolution

There seems to be an intriguing bond between the Marionette Theatre and Rabindra Rangshala.  The puppet company was founded in 1960, and the auditorium was built at about the same time.  The company was closed down in 1990 for want of resources, and since about the same time the marvelous auditorium has remained unused (on account of a judicial ruling declaring it to be an encroachment on forest land) and has been ruined.

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