By Neha Kirpal
Anurupa Roy began playing with puppets when she was nine years old, when her parents bought her a puppet for the first time. Today, as a well-known puppeteer, puppet designer and director, she is recognised as a major creative force in Indian puppet theatre. She is the founder and managing trustee of the Katkatha Puppet Arts Trust, a puppet theatre group based in Delhi since 1998. She has directed over 15 shows for children and adults ranging from the Ramayana and Mahabharata to Shakespearean comedy and the Humayun-nama.
We speak to her about her unconventional career.
What were your earliest puppetry influences?
When I was around 10, I saw Dadi Pudumjee’s show called Circus at the Shriram Centre performed with umbrellas and Ranjana Pandey’s puppet show at the Crafts Museum. The impact was strong. I still remember images from the shows. In my school, Sardar Patel Vidyalaya, we had puppet classes every Saturday.
So, my interest began early and only intensified. By the time I was in college, I was doing a lot of puppetry. Post college, it became an obvious choice.
Was it difficult to choose a relatively lesser known career path?
It is difficult only as long as one makes it difficult. I was very fortunate that I had the support of my parents. But it was a near-empty space. There were no training possibilities; I had to be self-taught.
But the few puppeteers in Delhi then were very open people. Varun Narain and Ranjana Pandey took me under their wings in the early years. Of course, I was laughed at or even pitied and patronised but I think if you answer your true calling, what people think and say sort of evaporates.
Were there any particular challenges you had to face in your profession as a woman?
Fortunately, puppetry, at least in Delhi, is not a boys’ club. When I look at the theatre world at large, gender inequalities are still so stark. Women directors are mostly dismissed as whimsical or indulging in a hobby. Often, it takes years of work for a woman director to be even considered a director.
At the larger field of performing arts, there are struggles for women to get established, to be taken seriously, to hold positions of authority. As a puppeteer, it has not been a struggle governed by gender but form. It will take years before puppet theatre is taken seriously as an art form. It has been my struggle from the beginning.
Tell us about some of the contemporary issues and themes that the Katkatha Puppet Arts Trust highlights.
Katkatha has always looked at the unsaid in the said, the unknown in the known. We practice a non-mainstream art form and our narratives are of the non-mainstream. If we present the Mahabharata, we choose to tell the lesser known back story of the characters. I don’t believe that the arts exist to raise issues. I believe that artists live in the real world but see something in it that others don’t see or don’t want to see.
The contemporary issues we have chosen to talk about in Katkatha are those that affect us—war, war mongering, violence, the environment and human greed, gender and sexuality being some of them. We are looking at raising questions. I don’t believe it is my job to give answers.
What have you learnt out of pursuing a living in puppetry?
For every good day, there are hundred difficult days of struggle. The only reason one sticks on is because of the love of it. There is nothing else on offer at the end of the day but the huge privilege of waking up in the morning, excited because you can do what you love.
First published in eShe’s June 2019 issue