Visual artist from India uses passion for puppetry to tell Malaysian folk tales in upcoming online show

Deepa making the string puppets as a group of musicians play a tune for one of the acts. — Picture by Yasodhaa Padmanathan
Deepa making the string puppets as a group of musicians play a tune for one of the acts. — Picture by Yasodhaa Padmanathan

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PETALING JAYA, Dec 2 — Indian visual artist Deepa Rajendra, who has been staying in Malaysia for the past 14 years, found her passion for puppetry making since young.

Growing up in the coastal town of Karnataka’s Udupi in India — famous for its theatrical folk dance Yakshagana, she was fascinated by the folk dance and would then draw her own puppets.

“My father is skilled in making dolls, rangoli (kolam), for a variety of social events and that inspired me to create these dolls using my own hands.

“In India, we have our own puppetry show called the Togalu Gombe which means dolls made from skin and this is akin to the wayang kulit which has its roots in Malaysia.

“Even in Malaysia, I’ve experimented with shadow puppets and have even created my own shadow puppets for local community programmes, international schools and for a 2015 musical performance Hrdaya,” she told Malay Mail.

Using a variety of puppetry to tell local folklore

For upcoming online show Asli — Resonance in Our Roots, a live music collaboration with puppetry and folklore directed by Kalpana Paranjothy, Deepa’s artistic talents is showcased in the creation of all the 38 puppet characters.

These characters make up the five acts of the show through local folk stories including stories of the indigenous communities such as The Seven Sea Princesses called ‘Ulek Mayang’ and the story about ‘Sang Kelembai’.

The narrator, Riki, a flying fox who will be present throughout the five acts while renowned musicians who will be performing include Hariraam Lam Tingyuan on the violin and Shweta Baskaran on the sitar.

Riki the flying fox, played by Mathan Rajasingam, is the main narrator for the online show. — Picture by Yasodhaa Padmanathan
Riki the flying fox, played by Mathan Rajasingam, is the main narrator for the online show. — Picture by Yasodhaa Padmanathan

Viewers will have a chance to witness and admire the different puppetry such as shadow, hand and string puppetry made for the different folk stories, accompanied by live music from local musicians.

The puppets are made from transparent plastic sheets, gel sheets and gel colours.

“String and the rod puppets were made with lightweight clay instead of wood while for shadow puppetry, shadowgraphy is used where silhouette images are created using hand shadow.

“I also created a few film slides for the change of scenes and the sets.”

Although Deepa is a skilled puppeteer, she admitted that it was difficult to understand the characters without having in-depth knowledge of the local and the lifestyles of the local indigenous communities.

“That was when I went through several reading sessions with the narrator Mathan, the artistic director Kalpana and scriptwriter Nadiah Rosli.

“After several reading sessions, I was able to understand the message and emotions behind the stories and imagined how my puppets would turn out to be.

“Like for one of the acts which takes place amidst the backdrop of Mount Kinabalu, I have to say I enjoyed creating these puppets to make them come alive for the show.

“And introducing puppetry to tell a story accompanied by music will be a great way to tug at viewers’ heartstrings and to send them the message of preserving our local stories,” she said.

An exciting show for children to value the indigenous community

The show’s artistic director Kalpana said that while she wanted a show that would showcase the stories of the main races in Malaysia, she also wanted to amplify the voices of the local indigenous community.

“The indigenous community are natives of the country who have their own language, costumes, beliefs, and practices.

“But many of the communities do not have adequate access to proper healthcare, clean water, education and facilities.

“Therefore, it is important that children and their parents watch the show to appreciate and learn as much as they can about them through the various puppetry performances,” she said.

Proceeds from the tickets will go towards helping the indigenous communities in their education and healthcare.

While the show will be fully online on December 5, there is also the option for viewers to head to Brickfields Temple of Fine Arts the same day at 6pm to watch the physical screening of the video performance.

Tickets are by donation and those interested can surf over here.

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