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Now, a Frenchman's Mahabharata

Source: PTI
November 04, 2005 15:14 IST
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Puppets have an ability to tell great stories, which is why French artiste Massimo Schuster has chosen to use them to narrate the Mahabharata.

"The Mahabharata belongs to all humanity. Everyone should know that there are great stories outside their own culture," Schuster says, justifying his choice of the classic Indian epic for a production travelling primarily in Europe.

Using waist-high, statue-like puppets with wooden sticks with wires for hands and legs, and Cubist-influenced faces sculpted from wood and metal, Schuster brought to life Ved Vyasa's tale, playing narrator, actor and puppeteer all at once.

The puppets, designed specially for this international production by the late Italian sculptor Enrico Baj, were draped with many-hued dupattas of cotton and silk, with the colours representing the virtues of the characters.

The Pandavas were in varying shades of blue, symbolic of the vastness and purity, while the Kauravas were in black and red, representing blood and the dark-side, in an allusion to their warrior-caste.

Karna, the son of Surya, was in yellow and orange, depicting his parentage, while Dhritarashtra, in purple silk, showed off his royal lineage.

Interestingly there is no puppet for Krishna." There is an element of divine. It is for the audience to see him, in the course of my performance."

The choice of rather eclectic puppets - some with motifs like leaves and pitch forks - was because Schuster has an aversion to more popular forms of puppetry especially string puppets.

"If puppets look like humans then I think human beings are better," he says, adding that "puppets have been used too often for little silly things."

He emphasises that texts like the Iliad and the Mahabharata are necessary to encourage people to know and respect cultures other than their own, and especially important for a world increasingly subsumed by religious fanaticism.

That the story belongs to the world was shown in the influences that went into the production -- Italian-designed puppets, directed by a French actor, narrating an Indian epic in English, with a background score including Japanese drums and Mongolian vocals.

"The confluence reflects my love for India and my pride in being European," says Schuster.

Schuster trained as an actor with the School of Drama in Milan, before forming his own theatre troupe, the Theatre de larc-en, thirty years ago.

His fascination for multi-cultural productions has also been seen in his puppet-adaptions of the Greek mythological war-drama, the Iliad and the Ethiopian epic, "Kebra Nagast" (The Glory of Kings).

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