Paani Foundation’s Farmer Cup 2023 uses Giant Puppets to tell the story of Farmers

Industry Watch | May 24, 2024 | Feature

Paani Foundation Farmer Cup 2023 Sixteen by Sixty Four Media Satyajit Padhye

In a spectacle that dwarfed even the sprawling fields of Pune, a giant puppet show stole the spotlight at the Farmer Cup event organised by Mumbai-based Paani Foundation in Balewadi. Farmer Cup is an annual event organized by Paani Foundation and managed by Sixteen by Sixty Four Media, a Pune based event company where more than 7000 farmers across Maharashtra attend the event. This year the event was held on February 29, 2024 at Balewadi Stadium in Pune and the event brought giant puppets to life, standing 11-12 feet tall.

Measuring 12 feet tall and painted in vibrant colours, the puppets were put together by renowned ventriloquists and puppet maker father-son duo of Ramdas and Satyajit Padhye at their Mumbai Puppet studio. “We had crafted giant puppets before but the challenge was to get them to move. We had four people manoeuvring a single puppet,” Satyajit shared, adding that he also used 3D printing techniques to make moveable eyelids and eyeballs. This was something first time in India that such huge puppets with moveable eyeballs and eye-lids were made. Satyajit said “It took 2 months to design such huge puppets. Lot of hard work went to it. The biggest challenge was to get the proportions right for the puppet and balance the puppet onto the puppeteer wearing the puppet. It was lot of engineering at play. We had lot of rehearsals with dancers and puppeteers. The biggest challenge was to design the puppet of Ravana and make it move. This is because it had lot of dance movements. The team of Paani Foundation and Sixteen by Sixty Four Media worked closely with us.”

As part of a Powada (a folk storytelling performance of Maharashtra) one of the puppets represented a farmer or Bali Raja which represented the victory of farmer movement, while the other, a Ravana puppet, symbolised 10 evils that the farmers fight during a year. Popular choreographer Phulva Khamkar choreographed our puppets through her well trained dancers and made the puppets dance so skilfully. The entire narration was done by popular actor Atul Kulkarni and the Powada was sung by singer Avdoot Gandhi. The event was anchored by popular actors Spruha Joshi and Jitendra Joshi.

The creative directors of the show Mr. Suresh Bhatia and Christopher Rego and the CEO of Paani Foundation Mr. Satyajit Bhatkal met Ramdas & Satyajit Padhye at their Ghatkopar residence three months before the event and discussed the possibility of using Giant puppets to tell the story of farmer movement in Maharashtra. When Mr. Aamir Khan, the founder of Paani Foundation saw these puppets he was really mesmerised by them. Satyajit says “When we met him at the event, he hugged my father Ramdas Padhye. He was really intrigued by the movements of the puppets. We had worked with Aamirji before in 2008 for one ad-film project and it was indeed pleasure to work with him once again. He was especially interested in how the eyes and eye-lids of such huge puppets moved.” Many celebrities attended the event including co-founder of Paani Foundation Mrs. Kiran Rao, COO of Paani Foundation Reena Dutta, mentor Dr Avinash Pol, many celebrities including Jackie Shroff, Ashutosh Gowarikar, Manjari Fadnis, Sonali Kulkarni, Adinath Kothare.

However, the biggest cheer came from 7000 farmers across Maharashtra who saw their story unfold through dance and puppets. It was a dance drama presented in the form of Powada. This was the highlight of the entire event. Paani Foundation is a non-profit, non-governmental organization which is active in the area of drought prevention and watershed management in the state of Maharashtra. It was founded by Aamir Khan, Kiran Rao and the 'Satyamev Jayate' TV show team, Paani Foundation mobilises and trains villagers and farmers to work on water and also trains them in several methods to effectively do farming.

Satyajit says “We are really thankful to entire team of Paani Foundation for giving us this opportunity to build such huge puppets. I am also happy that I could use my art form to spread awareness regarding the causes of farmers. I feel puppetry medium has the power to convey so many things in subtle way. I think the Indian experiential industry should use the puppetry medium in an effective way to tell the narrative of the event. I think this was the best example of how we can use unique storytelling methods in a live event. I wish more and more event companies use this age old art of puppetry and ventriloquism. I am really happy to be a part of this. It was challenging and fun to make these puppets.”

In a spectacle that dwarfed even the sprawling fields of Pune, a giant puppet show stole the spotlight at the Farmer Cup event organised by Mumbai-based Paani Foundation in Balewadi.

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