Sashank Kini

Sashank Kini, Research assistant at MICA, Ahmedabad, is a researcher, writer and educator specializing in children's studies and media culture.

Interviewer: Sashank Kini; Interviewee: Meena Naik; Cameraperson: Rishikesh Thakur; Interview Date: October 19, 2017; Location: Mumbai
 
Background: Famed puppeteer Meena Naik shares her experience anchoring Kilbil, the popular Marathi children's show that aired on Doordarshan between the 70s and the 80s.

 

SASHANK KINI: Tell us how long you were associated with Doordarshan, and particularly the show Kilbil.

 

MEENA NAIK: Doordarshan  started in 1972, and right from the first day, I was associated with Doordarshan but not particularly children’s programming … play… regular plays directed by Sai Paranjape but in 75  I was interviewing the famous playwright Ratnagar Maktari in children’s programmes, and you see I interviewed him for almost an hour because in those days we used to get vyatyaya (interruption), vyatyaya, vyatyaya and then pull on… they used to tell us… and that way I kept on interviewing him for one hour… almost one hour… After that Suhasini Madgaonkar liked it, people like it, and she asked me to anchor the children’s programme Kibil regularly.

 

S.K: So at that time Kilbil wasn’t there…

 

M.N.: Kilbil was there and somebody else was anchoring the programme, and when she asked him, and I told her that I feel that I should anchor the programme with a puppet in my hand. She liked the idea and… let me tell you that before that I had been to Europe in 74.  I had seen many programmes… television programmes using puppet and all that… Sesame and all that… so I wanted to make that kind of puppets but it was not possible here because there was no academy or institute where I could have got trained. So I made puppet on trial and error basis and I started anchoring the programme with a puppet in my hand. Of course, there was a boy… pretty smart boy  he was only twelve years old or something… and he used to give voice to this puppet… and in our interaction we used to anchor this programme and children loved it… even non-Maharastrian… all people used  to watch this programme because that time only one channel  was there and everybody used to watch because this was the very entertaining programme because that boy used to be very smart… he used to answer my questions smartly and all that… so people and… the character puppet was very interesting.

 

S.K: What was the puppets name?

 

M.N.: Puppet’s name was Dhitukliya … Dhitukliya means very courageous and all that… and small also Dhitukliya means… tiny… so ummm… this name was given by the viewers only … We used to get big heap of letters…. So uhh… they gave the name… so it was Dhitukliya and Meenatai… (CUT TO THE NEWSPAPER CUTOUT OF MEENA NAIK WITH DHITUKLIYA; FIRST INCLUDE STILL OF WHOLE ARTICLE THEN ZOOM IN ON THE IMAGE OF MEENA WITH THE PUPPET) they used to call me Meenatai… so people still recognize me as Dhitukliya’s Meenatai, Kilbil ki Meenatai… (DISSOLVE TO INTERVIEW) so almost every Tuesday I used to appear on television, and four years, 75 to 79, I conducted the programme.

 

M.N.: Namaste… hello… Ram Ram….

 

S.K: Hello! And so much time would it take to make such a puppet…

 

M.N.: It depends… sometimes one day… sometimes two days.

 

S.K: Hmmm… And generally this is made out of cloth…

 

M.N.: Yeah… sometimes I make face out of ball… sometimes papier mache … sometimes sponge foam.

 

S.K: And generally… when it came to that particular puppet can you tell us how you operate it basically… you had the camera in front of you?

 

M.N.: Like this only… I used to sit on the table… I mean the chair… and table was there and I used to handle it like this… Oh hello! Hi! Namaste! Look at them! Hello! Bye Bye! Ohhh…

 

S.K: And can you tell me… I’ve read that in making a puppet certain parts of the face are very important… the eyes for instance they convey certain things so you should be careful with rather very sure of what you do…

 

M.N.: I feel that manipulation is very important… not eyes and lips and looks and everything… Manipulation…. You make it so live… the character should be whatever… the object you animate that object properly.

 

S.K: And this one how are you holding it?

 

M.N.: These three fingers… One for the neck… these two for the palms…

 

S.K: Great… So that was a nice little brief demonstration… and do you have a name for it?

 

M.N.: This one…. This one is a story from the Ghanerda Ghanu… dirty ghanu… So he’s okay but before that he was dirty… never used to brush his hair…teeth and all that… And he goes out to a play and everybody says ‘You’re dirty. We won’t play with you’… the cat the dog the pigeon and all that… and the last pig comes and says ‘Chalo… we will play together’… And the pig is so dirty… so he feels that ‘Oh my god this dirty fellow is asking me to play with him… and then he runs away and get bath and all that and comes clean… and all these animals… the cat and the dog… they come to play with him’

 

S.K: It’s interesting how you get these ideas for the puppets… even Dhitukda for instance… how do you get them?

 

M.N.: My creation… ha ha! 

 

S.K: As a veteran puppeteer could you tell me why you got so fascinated with this form of art?

 

M.N.: I must share one experience with you. 1975 I started anchoring this programme, then these Ford Foundation people had this language development project with municipal school children, and you see there are big dropouts of you know…. These kids… So they wanted to stop it. They were watching my programme. They came to know the response of these children… audience and all that… so they asked me to work on that project ‘Language Development Project’, and there you know I was working as a consultant. I… I… I studied their syllabus, I studied their problems… and I came to know these kids… their mother tongue is different, their community language is different and when they come to school the standard language is different. They don’t understand what teachers talk and all so basically you had to attract them using puppets. I made sets of puppets, I dramatized their lessons and as well as their poems and I trained their teachers how to use them in classrooms, and those teachers started using those puppets those sets of puppets in their classroom and the response was fantastic. The dropouts phased out. So there I came to know that they think that the puppet is a different character so they open up… no inhibitions… they start talking… and it is a very good medium for the introvert children, children under trauma… Meantime, you see I had been to Gujarat also after the communal riots. Yeah, and there you see I had worked with those children. They had… I had worked in raahat camps… relief camps, and there the children had seen bloodsheds and rapes and everything… and lost their houses and parents and all that… So I worked there with the children… I taught them very simple puppets. Children made puppets, made them speak, and opened up and narrated their horrible experiences through puppets. So I felt that this is a very good medium to work with the children through puppets. All types of children…

 

S.K: So when you had these for television… were you tackling such issues or were you purely on entertainment…

 

M.N.: No… that was basically meant for entertainment… there I didn’t do this. But the response of the children… that was fantastic… you many children used to come on the show and there used to be… you know live programs … not recorded.

 

S.K: I’ve heard…

 

M.N.: Not recorded. No recorded programmes at all. So everyday from 6:30 to 7:00 live blah-blah-blah with the puppets I used to do… and all live programmes used to be there…

 

S.K: What were some of the themes that were handled in?

 

M.N.: Not exactly issues but you know like for cleanliness , how to respect you know elders… you know… and in puppetry you know you just have to repeat the line. That is very important. Puppetry you see when you want to convey something you repeat bottomline or whatever… your message so through that you know we used to give lot many messages to the children. You see we are we are showing classical dance. Then we used to discuss how many types of classical dances are there in India… traditional this-that… then from which region are they… you see that kind of information we used to give the children.

 

S.K: Did you have classical performances on the show?

 

M.N.: Yeah…

 

S.K: Like classical dances…

 

M.N.: Yeah… every performances were live.

 

S.K: What else can should be done…

 

M.N.: You see in our programming also Kilbil…we used to have sports meet outside the programme and they were shooting all that and showing on television.

 

S.K: Yes

 

M.N.: Then we used to have drawing competition… outside the television and they were shooting all that and showing it on television… so those programmes were happening in those days…  Not only television… television… television… on floor.

 

S.K: What are the major challenges… television as such was a new medium, secondly you were bringing puppetry to it, and thirdly it was live. So what are the major challenges that you had to face when you know?

 

M.N.: First challenge was we never got a ready script in my hand… You see nowadays for every programme a script a script writer is there and you get ready scripts. But we never got that. So I used to write the scripts whatever I wanted to talk

 

S.K: In that limited time…

 

M.N.: Just before… just before the programme, and I used to get the list of the running… running order… this this this programmes are there and we used to talk. I used to write my dialogue plus that puppet’s dialogue, and I used to rehearse with him. That boy, he was twelve years, thirteen years old. So I used to tell him what is to be given… and uhhh… and that way we used to anchor with each other. That children liked. That was one thing.

 

The other thing is… as I told you that… the transmission used to break in between so we had to stop… again we had to start right from the beginning… that kind of thing used to happen… and you see we were used to it after some time… so we knew that vyatyaya aane ke baad what used to be done… we relax and then chalo chalo chalo chalo transmission is started… that way we were you know…

 

S.K: over the four years did you sort of want to experiment… like bringing other puppets on to the…

 

M.N.: No because this was the most popular character so I did not think of changing… only you know we changed his… his costume and… in the beginning we showed that he is coming from some rural area so he used to say ‘Ram ram pavna’… you know at the end of the programme also ‘Ram Ram’ like that, and slowly slowly we began urban.

 

S.K: One you were no longer associated with the show, did the puppet remain or…

 

M.N.: Just leaving before the show… I uhh… we brought him… live character… that boy… so he used to come in the programme… and he told the audience that he used to give the voice to the puppet and he’s Dhitukliya… so they used to call him Dhitukliya only but live Dhitukliya…

 

S.K: And it continued with the…

 

M.N.: For some time…. And then they changed the format… Vijaya Zogalekar  was there and she took over… and she had different ideas.

 

S.K: What are the developments you have seen with time especially in India if you see in puppetry?

 

M.N.: Nowadays you know we have Marathi… I mean Indian version of Sesame Street that is Galli Galli Sim Sim. So same puppets are there only they have changed the language, scripts also they follow the same thing… So there are muppets are there… But my puppet had no lip movement, jaw movement , it was not a muppet still it was very impressive, children liked it. You know effective. It didn’t make much difference. But nowadays I don’t find any children’s programmes at all. 

 

S.K: You mean with puppetry are you saying…

 

M.N.: No no no children’s programmes at all… There are no programmes for children. You see I was a member at this… ummm… this committee… so I used to tell this committee ‘We must have children’s programmes… we must have children’s programmes… so they used to say, ‘We have children’s programmes. We are showing cartoon films’. So they think that cartoon films are children’s programmes.

 

S.K: When you speak of children’s programmes what do you mean by that?

 

M.N.: Children’s programmes are… involvement of children.

 

S.K: Okay… yeah yeah…

 

M.N.: You see children should appear on television in programmes you know… they can show their talent… they can perform skits… I used to write scripts also in those days and direct the plays for those children…

 

S.K: Why do you think this is happening where the child is no longer the actor or participant on the television? What do you think of it?

 

M.N.: You know… they say that we don’t get sponsors for that … that’s why they are not doing children’s programmes at all. And nowadays we have these channels… Hungama and whatever… so children watch all cartoon strips. 

 

S.K: So… I mean… you’re saying that lack of funding for live action children’s programming right?

 

M.N.: Yeah… they are not interested in producing children’s programmes at all…Nowadays even on Doordarshan they are not producing children’s programmes at all. They stopped long back in fact. They are telling us the same thing. You see they are competing with other channels… so they have become commercial nowadays… so they are also telling me that ‘we don’t have sponsors for children’s programming. So how do we do it?’