Jolputul – bottles, buttons and socks

In the time of technologically mediated entertainment, Istiaque Ahmed Nahian writes about a youth led puppet studio that is trying to restore the long historic tradition of puppetry.

 

There will be a cliché in 50 to 60 years from now that, ‘Man has become the puppets of technological advancement’. We, especially the millennials, are extremely lucky to become the witness to this puppet-making process. We have seen ups and downs in friendship from losing of a tennis ball till posting mushy pictures in social media during birthdays. It will not entirely be unfair if we say that we have seen it all. Apartments are muffling the hurrahs of a fallen wicket or a neatly scored goal. The eagerly waiting ever-hungry players by the windows are replaced by the WIFI routers. Easy entertainment is killing the actual feeling of joy everybody deserves, especially the children. The intrusion of unwanted cultures in the name of ‘edutainment’ is really a headache. In this scenario, Jolputul, a puppet studio is an emerging aspirin, which is trying to cure this migraine of mediocrity.

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The group started through an urge of creative satisfaction. Some of the founding members of the studio lived in the same compound in Dhaka’s Elephant Road area. It was the atmosphere of the compound that fueled their imagination. Shahriar Shaon, one of the founding members said, ‘There is no specific reason behind the naming of our puppet group. But we had a certain knack towards the name Jol, water in Bengali. Rahul Ananda is one of our mentors, and you can see, we have groups like, Joler Gaan and Jolpori. I think our future initiatives will have affiliation with the name Jol too, as the genesis happened under the same roof. It has become a brand. We all wanted to follow the footsteps of Mustafa Monwar and make amazing puppets. Some of us had a bit of technical skills which made the process of creation smooth. The group was named ‘261/1 puppet studio’ in the beginning; it was the address where it all began’.

The groups’ first show was with Masoom Chishty, an artist. The show was based on some political issues back in 2005. A string puppet was used in the play. The play was welcomed with substantial response. From then, the group started working actively. Lal and Hoilda are the prominent puppet duo of the show. About the puppets, Saiful Jarnal said, ‘We do not use mainstream materials for our puppets. We use easily found materials. You see, our puppets, Lal and Hoilda are made of socks and buttons. Using found materials for puppets has indirectly become our motto. From the beginning we knew that it is close to impossible to surpass Mustafa Monwar sir as a puppeteer. So we kind of developed our own style. It is positive that other puppet groups are actively working as well. Their puppets look really nice. But I think they lack conviction somehow. Our aim was to make the audience appreciate our theme of the work, not the materials’.

Lal and Hoilda are present in almost all the skits of the group. They are contrasting characters who subtly convey the desired messages like personal hygiene and sense of morality to the audience. Lal is logical and formal, but Hoilda is more bold and stubborn. Hoilda portrays the innocence of a child. No direct message is conveyed through the acts, just some scenarios. Shahriar Shaon said, ‘The idea of edutainment is a little confusing to me. I believe in pure entertainment. Our education system is a major impediment in the process of fun learning. We are trained to become lifelong clerks, not entrepreneurs. We merely present some scenarios through our plays in front of the audience and let them decide. Because of the hectic learning process in the present days, if the children get a sense that they are getting taught through some shows, they would not take it positively. Every child is different. One kid may become awkward if he or she is asked to recite a poem in front of a hundred people, but if asked in front of a few, he may even add some extra lines to the poem too! The teachers have to decide what kind of learners they want. And I also believe in simplicity. I believe that anything, even a simple pencil can become a puppet. We have to believe in the character we want to transform into the puppet. You see, a magician can perform magic with his bare hands. It is all about the belief’.

Raihan Ahmed Rafi, who was also part of the Elephant Road gang, said, ‘The idea was to make simple puppets, acceptable to all. We did not want to scare anyone through our puppets. And as we run workshops too, it is best that we use found materials’.

The group mainly performs charity shows in special schools and schools for underprivileged children. Recently they went to Lama, and directed a school play which was performed by the students there. They also perform certain corporate shows. One of the puppet makers, Azmain Azad Katha said, ‘We run workshops occasionally too. The workshops are open for all. It is great to see the children learning to make puppets together. Sometimes their parents join too, which is fun. Hopefully we will see future puppeteers through the workshops. Even now we get calls from the kids who worked with us years ago!’

Deshal fashion house was the first to recognise the efforts of Jolputul. The group performed a skit in their Banani outlet, which was their first performance containing a budget. In recent times, there are some doubts about the patrons in the market. The main concern is the budget. The team said, ‘Sometimes we are asked to perform shows in a very short budget which becomes close to impossible. It is a huge impediment for us to improve and experiment. In this age of communication, the audience gets access to all calibers of entertainment. So, we need to up our game from time to time and that needs a certain amount of budget. Child psychology is an interesting thing. We cannot eyewash the children by showing anything. In our country, the budgets and slots for children shows are miserable. The makers and the producers have to be on the same page to create something magical’.

Technology can be compared to antibiotics. Its redundancy can lead to self assassination of the mind. Negative entertainment can lead to frustration, so we need to make sure that we are not just passing our time, we are living through it. Rather than becoming cute and weird, puppets are a great medium of entertainment and expressing one’s thought. So, let us hope that the glass never becomes empty for Jolputul!

 

Istiaque Ahmed Nahian is a student of University of Dhaka.

 

 

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