Puppeteer and ventriloquist Ramdas Padhye has majestically continued forward the legacy of his father, Y K Padhye. It is reinforced by the fact that Ramdas’ most recognisable companion, puppet Ardhavatrao, is touching the milestone of 100 years of offering unadulterated entertainment. And the troupe is celebrating its success with a show, Carry on Entertainment – Ramdas Padhye Live which will showcase different puppetry forms and the 100-year-old puppet Mr. Crazy aka Ardhavatrao. Ramdas is a foremost name in the world of puppetry and has toured all over the world. However, his primary objective has always been to popularise Indian dolls and puppets. In a freewheeling conversation with ACF, Ramdas talks about the diversity of the medium.
Ventriloquism and puppetry branched out of Marathi theatre. What are your thoughts on this subject?
Ventriloquism has its origin in India. The ancient Vedas mentioned ventriloquism. However, it was not used as a form of entertainment, but was used by black magicians to deceive people. Puppetry also has its origin in India. In fact, late pioneer Indian dramatist Vishnudas Bhave used puppets to stage his first Marathi play “Draupadi Swyamvar” in the year 1843.
How important was it to acquire Vishnudas Bhave’s puppets?
It was indeed special. In fact, this treasure trove of puppets was handed over to me by a very popular exponent of theatre and dramatist Bhalchandra Pendharkar, who was confident that I could do justice to the puppets which were originally hand crafted by Vishnudas Bhave. I received them in 1984. Then my wife Aparna and I researched, and presented a show in 2000.The puppets were resurrected by me painstakingly like a jig-saw puzzle. The limbs, torsos, hands were separated and I had to reassemble them one by one.
How did radio, cable television, stage and feature film help in the evolution of ‘Indian dolls’? You are a maker of puppets. Tell us about some of your currently favorite puppets.?
These mediums have a big contribution in spreading the art. They also gave me an opportunity to think differently. There is a difference in lights and visual appeal, depending on the medium. The kinds of puppets used in each medium make us think how much impact they can create within that medium. I have around 2000 puppets and each one is my favorite. However, the most special puppet is Ardhavatrao or Mr.Crazy, which is a 100- year-old puppet. Ardhavatrao was conceived by my father Y.K. Padhye.
What do you remember of your first performance? Did your father Y.K. Padhye, a senior ventriloquist and puppeteer, encourage you to practice the art form?
My first performance was in 1967 in Mumbai at Birla Krida Kendra and my father was present there. He was overwhelmed to see my performance. When I was young, I used to see my father talking to puppets. So, one day, I asked him how the puppets talked to him and not me. He then told me that I had to practice this art only then the puppets would start talking to me! So this is how my journey started.
When the filmmakers came calling for your father’s contribution into cinema, in your views, what could the filmmakers be looking for?
I think filmmakers are always in search of something new and this medium had not been explored so they must have thought that it will give an edge to their cinema and have a different visual appeal amongst the audience.
Do traditional puppetry shows create myth or are they based on legends?
Some traditional puppetry shows are based on myth while some are based on legend. In fact, there are two approaches, one based on legends such as Ramayana and Mahabharata. The other is myth. Myth is specially created to educate people about certain issues.
Growing up in a household with many puppets, dolls and masks must have been quite an experience. What effect did it have on your imagination?
Yes indeed! In fact, the curiosity led me to learn the art form. I feel that when there is a certain business or art running in your house from generations, it obviously attracts the next generation or atleast creates a certain amount of interest. When that interest becomes your passion, it widens your imagination.
Can you shed light on your ongoing projects? Do your future works involve an active use of technology?
Keeping in tune with technology, we keep on using new techniques like 3D printing, digital puppetry in our projects. We will be performing worldwide to celebrate the 100 years Ardhavatrao. We have come up with a show “Carry on Entertainment – Ramdas Padhye Live” which is a two hour showcasing different puppetry forms.
How do you initiate children in ventriloquism and puppetry?
We conduct workshops for children whenever we are free from our commercial work. We teach them voice modulation, how to throw the voice combined with the hand movements and even puppet making. We also ask them to write their own dialogues and script, which gives them an overall idea about how ventriloquism and puppetry works.