Interview: Bhaskar Kamath4 min read
Kamath has been bestowed many prestigious awards, the latest being the State Award last November. He has also published five books on puppetry.
In an exclusive interview with TMJ, he talks about his experiences, experiments, difficulties and his concerns to preserve this art.
Q: What inspired you to be a puppeteer?
A: This has been my family profession started by my ancestors some 350 years back and I am the sixth generation to follow this art. I left my bank job because I felt there was a need to preserve this art form that was started by my ancestors.
Q: What were the circumstances under which you quit your bank job and decided to take up puppetry for a livelihood?
A: There were lots of problems when I started this from scratch. My miseries and problems can’t be explained or expressed in words. When I left my bank job my parents were bed ridden. My mother was suffering from brain tumor and father had paralysis. At that point of time I took this strong step and decided to go ahead and take up this profession where there is no scope of making money.
Q: Compared to the olden days how have things changed?
A: I feel there are a lot of differences. In olden days the main objective of this art form was to preserve this art and reach the masses. But now-a-days we have to compete with other forms of entertainment as well. To exist in this field of entertainment we have to give competitive stories and unique presentations or else no one will be interested in this art form and we can’t survive.
Q: What are the themes covered in this form of puppetry?
A: This string puppetry is entirely different as it is strictly based on the norms of Yakshagana Bayalata (one of the most remarkable arts of Karnataka). The story content is the excerpts from the epic books like Ramayana, Mahabharata, Bhagwata, etc.
Q: Do you travel extensively to perform shows and how popular are these shows abroad?
A: In India I have performed at places like Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Rajasthan, Punjab and many more. As far as my international travels are concerned it includes France, Germany, Holland, Switzerland, Greece, Australia, Pakistan, England, Thailand and I will also perform in New Zealand this March. This has all been possible through some good people who have sponsored my trip and companies like Infosys and Century Builders have supported my work to a great extent and there has never been any kind of aid from the government side. This art form is very popular abroad or else I won’t be traveling to these places.
Q: Puppetry, as an art is said to be on its way out. What do you think are the reasons behind this?
A: I purely believe it is due to lack of security. Everybody likes this art but eventually everyone neglects it. Support is there from people but not in financial form. It is disheartening that there is no support from the government as well. They show their support in the form of awards but not financially. I put my own money that I have got by performing abroad and I accordingly plan my resources.
Q: Do you think people are responsible for this decline?
A: Well partially yes! I would say they are fifty per cent responsible for this. There are always two sides of a coin. The value of a coin is complete when it has both the sides. Similarly I believe it is not only my duty but the duty of the society as well to preserve this ancient art form of our country.
Q: What problems are you facing with regards to the institute?
A: To build an institute it requires government permission as it is in the coastal area. Our country is ruled and governed by bureaucrats who don’t understand this art form. There is corruption everywhere and I’m not ready to pay them in any form. There is delay just because I’m not ready to pay these officers or else my work would have been done long back. I have been promised many things but all are fake and untrue. I believe in god and I hope for the best.
Sub-edited: Lijo Thampy