A trio of German and Afghan students have created a contemporary puppet show featuring 13th century Persian poet Rumi’s story about a caged parrot’s message to the free birds in India to talk about peace across the globe.
The Rumi-Balkhi Company founded by Berlin’s Ernst Busch Academy students Nasir Formuli, Karoline Hoffmann and Sarah Zastrau in 2016, aims at intercultural exchanges between Afghanistan and Germany, countries that have rich puppet theatre traditions.
At the Indian Museum in Kolkata, supported by ThinkArts, they recently performed Rumi’s “The Merchant and the Parrot” to a packed audience, comprising mostly children. The Puppets, masks and performances by the three, accompanied by captivating voice modulations, drove home the message.
For the group, the heart of the show was the contrast between their cultures.
“It was about India a bit and I love the story because it talks about freedom. My country has many problems. There are women’s issues. There is war. These problems are cages,” play director Nasir, who hails from Afghanistan, told IANS.
“For us it is totally different. We are allowed to do whatever we want. So it was interesting for us to learn about Afghanistan and Rumi’s story struck a cord. Because of recent events, we can relate to the play more. Initially, our visas were rejected while coming to India and that made us realise what situation others may be facing in the rest of the world,” Karoline and Sarah from Germany, who study puppet theatre, told IANS.
But why use puppets ?
The team believes puppets are fluid and therefore, can be a versatile tool to project emotions and actions.
“Both adults and children can relate to them. In Afghanistan, the puppets have traditional designs, in Germany, they can be abstract. The beauty is that you can pick up any inanimate object and turn it into a puppet,” Nasir said.
While Sarah was in-charge of the dramaturgy, Karoline designed the costumes.
Despite the gravity of the story, the theatre also brought out the fun element, reinforcing the cultural exchange.
“German puppet theatre has a fun element, while in Afghanistan it is more serious. So we decided to present Rumi in a fun style,” Nasir added.