Javanese shadow puppet, early 20th century.
© National Media Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
Shadow plays, which can be regarded as an extremely early precursor of cinema, originated in Java and India some thousands of years ago and can still be seen today. The thin leather puppets are intricately perforated and painted and depict figures in folklore. They are manipulated by rods in front of a translucent screen, lit from behind so that the puppet is seen in silhouette. The puppet operators speak the dialogue and the performance is accompanied by music. Traditionally, the men and women in the audience sat on either side of a dividing screen.