Varun and his puppets are off to Switzerland

Varun Narain, a contemporary Indian puppeteer and his puppets will travel to Berne in August 2007 as part of the Artist-in-Residence programme. Invited by Schlachthaus Theater on a three-month residency, Varun hopes to see the work of his Swiss peers and to explore the possibilities of cross-cultural collaboration in object theatre. A contemporary puppeteer, Varun’s work has been much appreciated and has drawn praise both nationally and internationally. Varun’s characters are bold and highly emotive and sensual. One of his best-known productions, 1001 Indian Nights followed by his recent performance The Dusk Bride Melodrama showcased his skill and talent and attracted rave reviews. Schlachthaus Theater , in Berne has invited Varun on a short residency where he will get the opportunity to introduce his work to Swiss audiences.


The Dusk Bride Melodrama

Synopsis: The dusk bride Melodrama is a story about the Maharaja of Sunset Kingdom, his beautiful dusk bride and an ambitious courtesan viewed through the Buddhist philosophy of rebirth. One day the Maharaja, a vain and debauched monarch meets a beautiful woman. In a drunken stupor, he marries the woman and makes her his consort. On discovering that the Maharaja is having an affair with the courtesan the queen dies of a broken heart. The kingdom is shocked at the turn of events. The king in an effort to cover up the scandal sends the courtesan for a plastic surgery. The courtesan now takes on the form of a conceited rock star. Meanwhile the compassionate life force of the dusk bride has entered the transient realm after death. The dusk bride surveys various identities and chooses to be reborn as a poor humble boy. A twist of fate brings the poor boy back to the palace. As the story unravels, the dusk bride returns to her rightful place in the palace resolving her past and overcoming the limitations of karma.


About Varun

Varun graduated from The Mass Communication Research Center (MCRC), at Jamia Millia Islamia. He believes in freedom of every kind, free from censorship and trauma. He is turned on by the blurred boundaries of gender, nationality, profession and religion (not to forget art and academics.) Working as a professional puppeteer since 1992, he has been a lecturer at MCRC, headed the performance and creative drama program at The Institute of Film and Television at Rai University and is presently teaches ‘Performance for Camera’ at the Elite Modeling School, New Delhi.


Varun has conceptualised, designed, directed and performed the following puppet shows:

  • ‘Bowlful of peals’(1997) A gay-lesbian adaptation , in a mythical Indian setting, of the fairy tale ballet ‘Swan Lake’.
  • ‘Liquid Rainbows’(1998)For adult audiences in Khatmandu and Khajuraho, this was a performance that explored Erotic art and pornography and dealt with the issue of freedom of expression and censorship(which I am totally against-in any form.)
  • ‘Operetta of Animal Tails’(1999) Brought to life the illustrations of Premola Ghosh, and her forst book ‘Gang Tales from Ranthambor’ The puppet show was an opera done in the style of a traditional Italian Opera and used excerpts of music from the operas of Puccini, Bizet and Mozart.(We weren’t too impressed by Wagner however!!)
  • ‘Mila and the Clock’(2000) A show which was a fairy tale – which represented Indian Contemporary puppetry at the 5th International Puppet Festival, held in Lahore.
  • ‘Lord Of the Rings’ (2001) An elaborate extravaganza that brought to life Tolkiens Middle earth and his epic story. The added character of smell was included in this performance – where every character had a ‘smell’ and the Land of Modor smelt damp and whiskyish, while Lothlorien smelt fruity.


Queer performance (adult performances):

  • These are decadent performances which are unfold at pubs, bars, brothels or virtually any kind of space that is not a traditional ‘performance space’. Some highlights are:
  • ‘Penne & Pasta Vaudaville Masala’: Performed at INDIGO in Mumbai, the story was about 4 characters, Penne: the stud, Tacky-tart: His Mother, Aesophotoeda: a courtesan from Ajmer who has migrated to Spain and Pasta: the past life therapist.
  • ‘1001 Indian Nights’ : A Love story between a Hijra and a sufi (mystic poet), Designed for the Royal Tropical Theater in Amsterdam, and also performed at various locations in Amsterdam including the gay pub ‘SOHO’ the Coffee shop ‘The Other Side’, An fashion store ‘Saffron’, On the streets and also at the Royal Tropical Theater itself.
  • ‘The Birth of Lizard’ : Lizard is a psychedelic puppet mutant who is half lizard half man, his pre-birth, birth, growing years, adolescence and finally death and rebirth challenge the age old theory of gender being a social construct, towards establishing a queerer gender, as Performative. This was a Performative installation with film and video projections on the three-dimensional ‘screen puppets’ performed at The India Habitat Center and certain other private venues in Bombay, Delhi and Amsterdam.
  • ‘Puppet Therapy and the Electric Apsara : A performance for all age groups – this is the visualized journey of a puppet into her fantasy to discover the different aspects of herself. Moving beyond gender – the performance ‘deconstructs’ the ‘body’ and thus performs ‘gender’. The performance is designed in the style of a carnival inside a puppet studio.


Brush with films...

Varun has been involved in the casting of international films such as:
  • Mira Nairs ‘Kama Sutra’
  • Deepa Mehta’s ‘Earth’
  • Jane Campions ‘Holy Smoke’
  • Daisy Meyers ‘The Guru’
  • Aamir Khans ‘Lagaan’
He continues to cast for films which cross over, as it enriches his understanding of the human performer.


Work in progress:

Petroleum – the lady who goes places. A princess from Pluto on earth, on a mission of understanding the earths enthusiasm to exclude, rather than include, she is subsequently distracted with the pleasures of liposuction, botox, silicon implants and also implants herself with a blue tooth. Transformation can be powerful, who would know this better than Petroleum Pandey. Petroleum was the mascot of many a social afternoon and evening at the India Fashion Week this Mach-April, 2007. She was also went to a fashion fatigue party post fashion week, (30th March 07) in Goa! She is still evolving into her complete performance.


Varun's puppets go places...

Varun has designed and executed puppets for camera for a range of films, from UNESCO India’s puppet film “AIDS, time to act’, to Shaad Ali’s ‘Bunty aur Bubli’. He has conducted workshops and performed puppet shows for organizations such as UNESCO, UNIFEM and other NGO’s ranging from street children to public school children as well as children who are differently able, both mentally and physically.