Children galore… 
- Aniruddh Vasudevan, Chennai 
Photos: Lalitha Venkat 

December 3, 2004

It was a day for kids at The Other Festival. The denomination barrier was dissolved and the children were allowed to sit wherever they wanted to. 

If there is one thing that can be said with absolute certainty, it is that the children, the puppets, and the voices from behind the screen hit it off very well right from the start. Jean-Luc Penso and Theatre du Petit Miroir’s delightful shadow puppetry presentation of “A Fox Story” kept all the kids – actual and grown-up – glued to their seats. “A Fox Story” is an enchanting fable that occupies a definite place in the French cultural memory. Momentarily resembling our fox from the Panchatantra, who falls into a dye vat and beguiles his enemies, the fox in the French fable proves much smarter and cunning. He has his way till the end. 
Jean-Luc Penso and his friends, Eric and Fabrice, had the entire audience roaring in laughter at the totally unanticipated inclusion of witty repartee in Tamil. The chief offended party in the story is the fox’s uncle who falls prey to all his tricks and manipulations. Even the rooster that announces daybreak at the beginning of the story is cleverer. Though not greatly different from our indigenous shadow puppetry, the colours and costumes of the puppets had an altogether different charm and appeal. It was later explained that the costumes represented different periods of French history. 

Going against the grain of the characteristic moral nature of fables, this one speaks about the cunning and malevolence of a fox who gets rewarded with lordship at the end. Though the expectation that the guilty would be punished was thwarted, I am sure none of the children in the audience decided to make a role model out of him. In fact, it was only the grown-ups in the audience who were slightly discomfited by the apparent amorality of the play. Some of them wondered if the artistes could put this art to better use by “addressing important issues”!  Some people are not happy until an art form wears its social affiliations on its sleeve. Are they? 

The highlight, however, was the post-performance session when the artistes invited the kids backstage to see how the puppets moved. It will not be too audacious to say that, unlike many of the elders, the children were more concerned about the art itself - the technique, the lighting, the colours, etc.  

Aniruddh Vasudevan is a Bharatanatyam dancer based in Chennai.