Lifestyles have changed so rapidly that many traditions, crafts and hobbies have been consigned to the archives. Kalaivanan is one such socially responsible person, who makes sure that the art of glove puppetry is resurrected, survives and made more relevant to the present scenario. By GEETHA GANGADARAN
How did you initially get into this art form?
As a student, I used to imitate my Tamil teacher, who had a peculiar way of teaching using paper models, followed by painting faces on vegetables like brinjals and ladies finger to entertain my friends. I later joined my father, who was in the film industry, to make it into a public entertainment forum. We have done about 6,700 shows in the last 42 years.
What have the themes for production been?
I realized very early in life that mythological plays were not my cup of tea. I am basically a non-believer in God. I wanted to digress from the routine themes and do more socially relevant ones to awaken public curiosity. I believe in being socially responsible and convey the same message through my work. Hence, we decided to do away with vulgar, double meaning dialogues or usage of derogatory words against women from our shows.
Tell us about some ofyour projects.
Doordarshan wanted me to do a programme for them with puppetry on the anatomy of human body with special reference to heart and kidney. I have made 400 scripts on contemporary subjects too. I have done a script relating to menstrual problems of girls and showcased it at an NSS camp for girls. Thus, I do not restrict myself to certain topics alone. I have not indulged in bribery of any sort to project my shows either. I also illustrate books for children to teach them the basics in a joyus way. A lot of research goes into my work and I ensure I communicate in common man’s language and use examples that can be easily related to.
How did you go about your experimentation?
I started the art in 1976, with the television and cinema being my biggest competitors. I took competition in a healthy way. I am a non-conformist and prefer being updated with information and technology, be it gadgets I use for the show or general knowledge. I read a lot too. My programmes used to last for two and half hours earlier, but today, I have realized that brevity is success and hence, have cut short them to an hour. Thus, I adapt to changes with time.
You teach in several schools. How has that experience been?
I decided to teach moral values to children through stories and have been a part of ‘Joyful Learning Programmes’. I have adapted the ‘Arabian Nights’ to suit modern environment, and also have made puppets of Bharathiar and taught children his poems. I have done a programme involving sexually abused children too. My experience comes handy to convey what I want aptly.
Tell us about your team aim your dream.
We are a team of seven. My son, Mutharasan works as a dubbing artist. We upload programmes on social network to create awareness and I personally feel that we need more people to address social problems. Also, our dream is to bring puppetry into ‘Sanra Siksha Abyan’ – as a part of the mainstream curriculum up to 5th standard.
Tell us more about the trust you own.
Through the trust, we conduct street theatres. We also encourage students who take up research papers associated to what we do and guide them.
Do you feel content with the work you do?
Yes, certainly. I am content with my work and also feel happy thinking that we impart the knowledge we have to others. We conduct summer camps on puppetry, and doll making and also train people on the same at our regular classes.
What is the gate of puppetry today?
Puppetry is a dying art and is on the brink of collapsing. Sometime back, a leather puppetry artist from Karnataka committed suicide because of poverty. He was not forthcoming enough to adapt to modern day requirement and was stuck to old stories. I was able to study the pulse of the people and mould the art to create new and current subjects. Puppetry, I feel, is an art which can be used to propagate good social ideas.