- Category: Interesting People
- Written by Gisele Turner
Laghu Haris Das attended Art School in Bloemfontein and at that early stage he had already developed a passion for marionettes. As the school did not offer three dimensional work he studied sculpture at the then Technikon, developing a penchant for creating mobile art works from whatever materials he found. Laghu recently moved to Durban and teamed up with his close friend, ecologist Joe West; they have formed an association geared to delivering the important eco message to school learners through puppetry and storytelling
Asked how his love for puppetry began Laghu explains:“In those days we could study Art at High School, and apart from our two languages, English and Afrikaans, we concentrated on developing our skills as artists. I was always interested in puppets and so I studied sculpture at OFS Technikon which was the closest I could get to learning how to make puppets.”
Fresh out of University, Laghu found work as a set painter for PACOFS, but found it hard work, poorly remunerated and what he terms ‘a dead end job’. “So I started to make marionettes at home,” he continues. “I would scour the junk yards and rubbish tips for materials and made stuff from skulls, bits of rotting wood, rusted bits of metal. I made these three marionettes that had a dark fairy feel, but natural, as though they had emerged from the soil of Africa. I took them and I moved to Cape Town, where I would go down to Greenmarket Square and walk around with them. That’s how I got my first job as a puppeteer with CAPAB – that would be around 1992.”
Laghu’s first production was ‘iStrongmani’, created and directed by Keith Anderson. “It was inspired by the South African circus, which in those days had a permanent venue down at the Waterfront. We developed ‘trick marionettes’ modelled on acts which included well-known clowns like Tikki and Francesco, acrobats, gymnasts, and, of course, the strongman, who could pick up a horse. We toured schools, but there was no government funding for shows, so I started a Puppet Company with a friend. Our first production was titled Three Golden Eggs, a story of forgiveness, love and adventure.
“My next journey into puppetry was with Gary Freedman. I worked with him on the Takalani Sesame shows and we also worked on Looking for a Monster, an amazing script written by a boy in the German Concentration camps in which he processes the human need to look for someone to blame. We went to Kenya with that show….”
Laghu had by this time become a devotee of the Hari Krishna movement (hence his production company’s name Blue Boy) and he spent two years touring the Krishna Temples in America and Canada with Swami Bhakti Marga, telling the stories from the Veda. “It was more or less living in bunk on a bus, moving from festival to festival with the Swami and a bunch of boys who would volunteer to put up the huge tents,” he says with a wry smile. “But when it came to puppetry, everyone looked to the Poles; and I ended up working with them for two years, touring villages with a kind of Krishna variety show that included drama, mime, song and, of course, amazing puppets.”
Returning to South Africa for family reasons, Laughu took up his role as an artist again. “In Bloem that’s what I am known as,” he explains. However, his old friend Joe West (Mayapur Chandra) decided to use his understanding of ecology to write and tour plays for learners and invited Laghu to join him.
“Our first production together, titled ‘Ntswaki’s Adventure’, is currently being performed as part of the Durban Children’s Theatre Festival which runs at the Catalina Theatre until this Saturday,” says Laghu. “It has toured some schools as well and we are keen to get the message about loving and taking care of the planet out there to as many learners as possible. Using giant marionettes to tell the story adds an important cultural aspect to the work, as marionettes are relatively rare.”
Catch ‘Ntswaki’s Adventure’ at 2 pm on Thursday and 4 pm on Saturday. Tickets are R60 and inquiries on 031 837 5999.