Media Review (Excerpts) See
Asian Theatre Journal, vol. 18, no. 2, Fall 2001 for complete review.
reviewed by Kathy Foley
The University of California-Santa Cruz
Borrowed Fire is a clear and poetic documentation of
tol pava kuttu, the shadow theatre of Kerala, India. The film communicates
the cultural context of the theatre and documents its changes in this generation,
focusing on pulavar (master puppeteer) Krishankutty and his sons, whose
work has been discussed in Friedrich Seltmann's Schattenspiel in Kerala
(1986) and Stuart Blackburn's Inside the Drama House (1996).
The camera work is visually pleasing and the coverage deft. The video gives
pertinent information on the text, drawn from Kampan's twelfth-century Tamil
version of the Ramayana. Focus is given to the life and training of personnel,
while the making of puppets is treated briefly...
... It is admirable how concisely the story line is conveyed in a few brief
episodes from the complex epic.
The video ends on an equivocal note. A wish for the art's preservation is
contrasted with the likelihood that Krishankutty will be the last pulavar.
In one image we see the oblong palm leaf from which the puppet master memorizes
his text dissolving into the oblong screen on which the shadow figures actualize
the story. The voice-over quotes a line from the epic: "Here one can
see everything in the world. There is nothing in the world that is not here."
Thus the connection of the textual and performative tradition is valorized.
In the following scene we see the aged puppeteer standing in the surf as the
voice-over, representing his thoughts, states: "This art will never die,
that is my hope."
Overall the film is an admirable accomplishment.
This film offers a useful insight into the shadow-puppet theatre of Kerala
and will be of interest to anyone interested in puppetry, Indian performing
arts, and social change in Kerala.
University of California-Santa Cruz