In a snug, temperate and lazy winter noon, everyone in a wide open slum of old Dhaka flocked together at their panchayat. The stage dolled up with posters with puppets painted on them. Someone was constantly singing out on a microphone, "We are coming! We are coming!" – the ambience hinted at a festive mood.
While the lifeless puppets suddenly began moving on the stage, talking and laughing like a living human, the crowd was taken by surprise. A young mother with her little daughter in her lap could not hold back her amazement, "I wonder how the dolls walk, even talk!"
Although puppetry is an ancient part of culture and heritage for us, Dhaka Puppet Theatre started their venture only in 2002. Ever since, they have been charming many hearts among the urban folks with such bliss.
Their journey officially took off in 2017, when their puppet show "Kathuriya Jolpori" and "Dushtu Rakhal" were staged on the theatre for the first time.
Two of the founding members of this cultural organisation, Arthur Baptist and Eshita Jahangir – also husband and wife, took a trip down their memory lane, "Our journey has not been any less of a puppet tale."
Some twenty years back, a group of young puppeteers came out of Mostafa Manowar's educational puppet developmental centre and formed their own group – with dreams in their eyes, and magical skills in their hands.
Being a student of Fine Arts at the University of Dhaka, Arthur has always felt a knack for art and creation.
During their period of struggle, all the members were young and financially insolvent, enthusiastic but somewhat wet behind the ears. They had no roof over their head when it came to cultivating their passion.
There were days when all they had for rehearsal was an open space by the roadside bridge. In the face of all the odds, the team kept walking hand in hand.
Over the time, many of the founding members left the group due to different reasons. Right now, they have as many as 10 members – Arthur Baptist, Eshita Jahangir, Roseline Diana Das, Linda Purobi Adhikary, Sajal Das, Jewel Dias, Symum Jahangir, Farhad Abedin Mollik, Sojib Kumar and Asha Khanam.
As many of us wonder how the puppets get life in their inert bodies, one must know that making a puppet is similar to immersing in arduous labour for at least 6 months to a year or more. From wood, iron, paper, rubber, plastic, foam – materials are required at different points. The talking puppets require different operational systems.
The backstage of a puppet show can help you measure the unbelievable efforts that have to be put in pulling off just one performance. The vocals and background music are usually pre-recorded. In Dhaka Puppet Theatre, the puppeteers lend their own voice – definitely in a vocalisation that is different from normal human voice!
The puppeteers lead the puppets with a metal or wooden rod in their hand. They can manipulate how the puppets will talk or walk on the stage with that single rod. Apart from the Rod puppet, Muppet, Shadow puppet, Hand puppet are also some of the other kinds used in puppet performances.
Dhaka Puppet Theatre believes that puppetry can inculcate the potential of imagination in children's mind. The script, storyline, dialogues trigger the viewers' fancy. Notwithstanding the fact that grownups, too, can spring up their past childhood.
As a part of their earnest endeavour, they pencil in a two-day puppet show fair every year. Once a local puppet team of Brahmanbaria named Binapani performed at their fair, people's presence and engagement overwhelmed them.
At present, they are working in association with multiple international NGOs. The group members see it as a privilege of being artists as they get to spread smiles on millions of faces whilst enlightening them about health, education and social awareness in general.
In 2018, Dhaka Puppet Theatre represented Bangladesh at the Harmony World Puppet Festival in Thailand being subsidised by the government and Ispahani Group.
Art and culture are not homogeneous in nature. Then again, when an urban setting suddenly turns into a countryside full of whisper and scurry, colourful puppets hum and cry and leave a strong message; that beckon the children as well as adults to play and laugh alongside. Dhaka Puppet Theatre, despite all the obstacles, is walking ahead with that one big dream.