(Last Updated on : 22/09/2015)
Kathputli is a Rajasthani form of string puppetry, which is a hereditary profession for the nomadic Bhat community from western Rajasthan. Most of the puppets made of painted woodenheads and cloth-stuffed bodies wrapped in skirts are articulated with only three strings attached to the puppeteer's fingers. They are manipulated with great dexterity and imagination. A few, like the court dancers required performing very complicated movements, have five to seven strings. Trick puppets i.e. a juggler throwing up balls, a horse rider, the Bhand or clown from Jaipur, a snake charmer with snakes, all these and more fascinate audiences. A mask-maker with two faces, one of a man and the other of a woman, is very popular because the faces are changed skillfully in an instant. The faces are carved at opposite ends or neck-to-neck. If the former, the marionette is so draped that one face remains hidden under its skirt, when the puppeteer deftly inverts the figure, the skirt exposes that face and covers the other. If the latter, the manipulator gives it a swift turn so that in the twinkling of an eye the male puppet becomes a female one.
As it survives now, Kathputli theatre is not particularly dramatic since its text proper has shrunk to a minimum. But it never fails to entertain with characters like a kettle-drummer who refuses to die and rises from a lifeless heap each time he is struck down. The main 'play' in the repertoire comprises ballads about the brave deeds of Amar Singh Rathor. He was legendary seventeenth-century Rajput prince of Nagaur in Rajasthan, allowing for long battle scenes. The other items comprise acrobatic song and dance numbers. The improvised stage has a backcloth behind which the puppeteer stands; besides him, a typical troupe consists of a singer and percussionist. Kathputli music draws heavily from the rich and varied folk forms of the region. While delivering dialogue, the puppeteers use the boli. Boli is a kind of whistle made by stretching a thin rubber tape between two bamboo strips tied firmly at both ends. When blown, it acts like a reed, producing a shrill note. Lines spoken through it acquire a weirdly interesting tone. At times it is used to create a trilling sound that helps in establishing an otherworldly atmosphere.