After taking over a mall in Chennai, giant puppets by France-based Les Grandes Personnes will now perform in Puducherry

As part of Bonjour India 2022, life-size dolls are putting on shows across the country

As part of Bonjour India 2022, life-size dolls are putting on shows across the country

A cry of delight. A sigh of horror. And bursts of laughter fill the courtyard of Phoenix MarketCity in Chennai on Friday night. As the crowd shrinks down a family of giant dolls: Karna, Kanchana, and their half-tiger daughter Meenu. There’s also Sheenaa, a young bum, who snorts through the room, dances, shakes a few heads and unashamedly walks through sociable couples and other onlookers. Artists from Chennai-based Koothu-P-Pattarai play drums in the background.

Artists from Chennai-based Koothu-P-Pattarai play drums in the background

Artists from Chennai-based Koothu-P-Pattarai drumming in the background | Photo credit: VELANKANNI RAJ B

The puppets play the integral characters in A twist of fate, produced by Les Grandes Personnes, a collective from Aubervilliers in France that has been making giant dolls for over 20 years. This show is part of Bonjour India 2022, which celebrates 75 years of India’s independence and Indo-French ties. It is organized by the French Embassy in India, the Institut Francais and Alliance Francaise India.

† Photo credit: VELANKANNI RAJ B

“The idea of ​​the collective is to make art for everyone and not just people who go to museums,” said Caroline Brillon, member of Les Grandes Personnes. The dolls are between three and four meters high. “They are made of papier-mâché. The structure has spring wires inside to facilitate better mobility,” explains Yoann Cottet, another member of the collective. “They’re not heavy,” he smiles when asked how much they weigh. The dolls are equipped with padded backpacks that performers put on when the show starts; this gives the construction more height.

Behind the scenes

Behind the scenes | Photo credit: VELANKANNI RAJ B

Making a doll takes about three weeks. There is a central column around which the pieces are attached. “Sometimes there are four people alone at the head,” says Yoann. This batch of dolls is made in India, in Puducherry. “We started it in March 2020, during a workshop in Pondicherry, mainly with theater students. Due to Covid we couldn’t finish it and had to fly back to France,” says Caroline. Last October, the unfinished dolls were flown back to France where they were then completed before being flown back to India for the show which began at Lodhi Gardens in Delhi and will now take place in Puducherry on April 3 (on the promenade, from Gandhi Thidal to the French consulate).

With so much travel with the dolls, over the years the makers have found newer methods of making each body part more compact so that they fit into smaller boxes, unlike the large suitcases they were flown into before.

There have been times when the dolls had to be repaired on tour, Yoann says. There’s a team ready to sort things out. It’s a lot of work and it involves sculpting, puppetry, costume manipulation, Caroline laughs.

After the debut in India, the dolls fly back to France for shows from A twist of fate through the land.


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