Online screening and Q&A

About Ram

May 25, at 7pm (EST)

Online screening of About Ram followed by a Q&A with Anurupa Roy (Katkatha Puppet Arts Trust), in conversation with Paula Richman (Oberlin College) and John Bell (Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry, University of Connecticut).  Hosted by the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry. 

About Ram (2006)

Presented by Katkatha Puppet Arts Trust
Directed by Anurupa Roy.
Performed by Avinash Yadav, Pawan Waghmare, Mohammad Shameem.
Music by Abhijeet Banerjee.
Animation Visualization by Vishal K Dhar

Synopsis

As the name suggests, the performance is about Ram, the prince who is sent on a long journey far away from his home when he is exiled by his father along with his wife Sita and brother Lakshman. Sita is kidnapped by Ravan the king of Lanka and kept prisoner. As Ram sits by the ocean looking at Lanka across its vastness his life flashes by, he feels powerless and dejected as he longs to fly across the ocean to his beloved Sita. The puppeteers help him by projecting his desires into the mask of the super hero Hanuman which attaches itself to Rams face, at once turning him into a super powerful simian who leaps across the ocean and reaches Sita.

In this journey and the bloody war that follows with Ravan, Ram becomes a king, forced to choose between the duty of the throne and the love of his wife. He rules alone for the next 10,000 years.   —Anurupa Roy

About the Show

About Ram,  an experimental theatrical piece and collaborative performance, using excerpts from the Bhavbhuti Ramayana and told through animation, projected images, dance, masks, and puppets. Directed by Anurupa Roy. Animation by Vishal Dhar. Performed by the Katkatha Puppet Theatre Group.

This adaptation looks at Ram as a human being and not as “God”. It traces Ram’s inner journey as a man tormented by his forced separation from his wife Sita. He then fights a fierce battle with the demons to rescue Sita only to be tormented by his own inner demons. Is Sita still pure? Will the people of Ayodhya ever accept her?

Our story begins as Ram sits by the sea overlooking Lanka where Sita is held captive by Ravan. Ram looks at his ring and his life flashes past him. He relives his days as Prince of Ayodhaya, riding an elephant, cheered on by his subjects,. He then pictures himself at the court of Janak where he breaks Shiva’s bow and wins the hand of princess Sita but is soon sent into exile for 14 years. Ram follows Marich the demon disguised as a golden deer and in the meantime Ravan kidnaps Sita. Jatayu tries to save her but is killed in battle with Ravan. Ram collapses in despair. Ram is played by a Bunraku like puppet operated by 3 puppeteers; his memories are projected on bamboo curtains placed behind him on the set.

The co-ordination between the puppeteers makes the puppet come alive. The fight sequences of the Ram puppet have been inspired by the warrior dance in Seraikela Chauu. Hanuman’s dance with the puppets is inspired by traditional Thai rod puppetry. The only other three dimensional presence is Sita. She has a very subdued presence as she represents fragments of Ram’s memories. Ravan is represented by a Tolu Bommalata shadow puppet which emerges out of a shadow screen to battle with Ram.

We are often asked “why the Ramayana?”

The reason is two fold. Firstly, to re-look at this ancient epic and find a new way of telling it for young people used to sophisticated technology, television and computer games. Secondly, to explore the possibilities of expanding the boundaries of puppetry from the figure of the puppet, to its manipulators and to its environment. We, as a puppet theatre company believe that puppetry is an amalgam of may forms, both plastic and performative and yet it has a distinct identity. Experimenting with different forms will push the boundaries of puppet theatre and expand its identity, a little at a time.

“About Ram” was made possible with a grant from the India Foundation for the Arts. It premiered at the India International Centre in 2006 and has since been performed at the India Habitat Centre, the World Puppet Theatre Festival, Kaoshuing, Taiwan, the India Foundation for the Arts Festival at Rangashankara , Bangalore and NINASAM, Hegudu. —Anurupa Roy

Q&A Panel

Paula Richman

Biography

Paula Richman, William Danforth Professor of South Asian Religions in the Department of Religion, Emerita, at Oberlin College, has published widely in the fields of Ramayana Studies and Tamil literature. Collaborative projects she directed culminated into four collections of multi-authored articles: Many Ramayanas: The Diversity of a Narrative Tradition in South Asia (1991), Questioning Ramayanas, a South Asian Tradition (2000), and Ramayana Stories in Modern South India (2008), and her co-edited volume Performing the Ramayana Tradition: Enactments, Interpretations, and Arguments is forthcoming. She recently completed a monograph on Tamil retellings of Rama’s story in Madras, 1918-1973. She has taught upper-level research seminars on the Ramayana tradition for more than 25 years, won the Oberlin College teaching award in the Humanities and has received multiple fellowships including a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship, two National Endowment for the Humanities grants and three American Institute of Indian Studies fellowships.

Anurupa Roy

Biography

Anurupa Roy is a puppeteer, puppet designer, and director of the puppet theater. She views puppetry as an amalgam of plastic and performing arts where sculptures, masks, figures, materials, found objects and narratives come together with music, movement, physicality and theater to create the theater where humans and puppets are co actors. She started at her group Katkatha in 1998, registered as the Katkatha Puppet Arts Trust 2006, and has directed over 15 shows for children and adults ranging from the Ramayana and Mahabharata to Shakespearen comedy to the Humayun-nama. The puppets used by the group range from 3 inches to forty feet. The shows have toured across Europe, Japan and South Asia. A major aspect of her work is using puppets for psycho social interventions in conflict areas like Kashmir, Sri Lanka and Manipur to Juvenile Remand homes. She has worked with youth and women across the country using puppets to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS and gender issues. She has been a visiting faculty at the University of California Los Angeles an Artists in Residence at Pro Helvetia Swiss Arts Council.

John Bell

Biography

Puppeteer and theater historian John Bell is the Director of the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry and an Associate Professor of Dramatic Arts, both at the University of Connecticut. He learned puppetry as a member of the Bread and Puppet Theater company from 1976 to 1986, and received his doctoral degree in theater history from Columbia University in 1993.  He is the author of many books and articles about puppet theater, including American Puppet Modernism (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008) and Strings, Hands, Shadows: A Modern Puppet History (Detroit Institute of Arts, 2000). He edited Puppets, Masks, and Performing Objects (MIT Press, 2001), and with Dassia Posner and Claudia Orenstein edited The Routledge Companion to Puppetry and Material Performance (Routledge, 2014). He is an editor of Puppetry International, the publication of the U.S. branch of the Union Internationale de la Marionnette. John is a founding member of the Brooklyn-based theater collective Great Small Works; one of the creators of the Honk! Festival of Activist Street Bands; and a member of the Second Line Social Aid and Pleasure Society Brass Band.

Puppet play and Q&A video

Upon completion of the event a video of the screening of the show and a video of the Q&A session will become available here. Please note that while the Q&A video will remain online indefinitely, the screening video will remain online for one week only. The below five-minute video contains excerpts from the show.

Acknowledgments

Columbia University

This screening is part of the “World Epics in Puppet Theater: India, Iran, Japan, Italy” project, a Columbia University Humanities War & Peace Initiative which “fosters the study of war and peace from the perspective of scholars in the Humanities, in conversation with colleagues from around Columbia and the world […] with an ultimate goal of perpetuating a more peaceful world.”

 

Katkatha Puppet Arts Trust

The Katkatha Puppet Arts Trust is a Delhi based puppet theatre company which began in 1998. Since then creating a rigorous training system for puppeteers has been a key focus for the group. In absence of a puppet school or courses to train professional puppeteers in India, Katkatha conducts intensive short courses and workshops in puppet techniques, supports interns who learn by following the work of the company. The focus is to train the next generation of professional puppeteers, create a discourse around puppetry and also build a network of puppeteers. 

About Ram, Anurupa Roy and Puppeteering,” review by Anindita Sengupta.

Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry

The Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry (BIMP) is one of America’s hidden treasures—a superb collection of over 3,500 puppets from all over the world; an archive of books, manuscripts, posters, drawings, audio-visual materials and photographs all covering the history of puppetry. It is also the new home of the Puppeteers of America’s Audio-Visual Collection: the largest collection of videotapes, films, and other media about puppetry in the United States. The Ballard Institute curates and produces exhibitions of puppetry, both at the Ballard Museum and for touring across the United States. The Institute also offers workshops, museum tours, artists’ forums, film showings, performances, and other events and programs that promote the art of puppetry as a twenty-first-century art form with deep historic and global roots.

Academic Committee

Jo Ann Cavallo

(Columbia University)
Organizer

Olga M. Davidson

(Boston University)

Claudia Orenstein

(Hunter College, CUNY; UNIMA-USA)

Elizabeth Oyler

(University of Pittsburgh)

Paula Richman

(Oberlin College)

Poupak Azimpour Tabrizi

(University of Tehran, Iran)

Co-sponsors

Columbia University

The Humanities War and Peace Initiative, through the Division of Humanities in the Arts & Sciences .

The Donald Keene Center of Japanese Culture.

University of  Connecticut

The Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry.

The Puppet Arts Program, Department of Dramatic Arts.

Museo Internazionale delle Marionette “Antonio Pasqualino” in Palermo, Italy 

UNIMA-USA

University of Pittsburgh