Indian theatre lost a prominent star with the demise of Habib Tanvir

By Manzar Bilal,,

After a long illness at last Habib Tanvir took his last breath at the National Hospital, Bhopal where he was admitted about 20 days ago. He was 85-years old at the time of his death.

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Habib Tanvir was one of the most popular Hindi playwrights, a theatre director, poet as well as a successful actor. He wrote many famous plays such as, Agra Bazar (1954) and Charandas Chor (1975). He founded, the Naya Theatre, Theatre Company in Bhopal in 1959.

He received many high ranked awards in his life because of his remarkable contribution for Indian theatre. He got the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1969, Padma Shri in 1983, Sangeet Natak Akademi Fellowship in 1996, and the Padma Bhushan in 2002.

He had also been nominated as a member of the Rajya Sabha (1972-1978). His play ‘Charandas Chor’ got him the Fringe Firsts Award at Edinburgh International Drama Festival in 1982.

He was born on September 1, 1923 in Raipur, Chhattisgarh, to Hafiz Ahmed Khan.
After completion of his matriculation from Laurie Municipal High School, Raipur, he completed his B.A. from Morris College, Nagpur in 1944. Thereafter he joined Aligarh Muslim University from where he did his M.A.

Habib Tanvir who was Habib Ahmad Khan in his early life took upon a takhallus, pen name, Tanvir, when he started writing poetry and soon he was being called, Habib Tanvir.

He went to Bombay In 1945 and joined All India Radio (AIR) as a producer along with writing songs for Hindi films and even acted in a few. He also joined the Progressive Writers’ Association (PWA) and became an integral part of Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA) as an actor. Later, when most of prominent IPTA members were imprisoned for opposing the British rule, he was asked to takeover the organization.

After shifting to New Delhi in 1954, Habib Tanvir worked with Qudsia Zaidi’s Hindustani Theatre, and also with Children’s theatre, and wrote plenty of plays.

It was during that period he happened to meet actor-director, Moneeka Mishra, whom he married later. In the same year he produced his first significant play ‘Agra Bazar’ based on the works and times of the plebian 18th-century Urdu poet, Nazir Akbarabadi, an older poet in the generation of Mirza Ghalib.

In 1955, Habib moved to England and spent around three years there. He trained in Acting at Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA) (1955) and in Direction at Bristol Old Vic Theatre School (1956). He also traveled the various places of Europe watching various theatre activities.

He came back to India in 1958 and produced a famous play ‘Mitti ki Gaadi’. He founded ‘Naya Theatre’ a theatre company in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh in 1959 along with his wife, Moneeka Mishra.

Habib has acted in over nine feature films, including Richard Attenborough’s film, Gandhi (1982) and, Bhopal Gas Tragedy.

He faced controversy for the first time when his play on religious hypocrisy, ‘Ponga Pandit’ came in 90s, Though the play was being performed since the sixties, in the charged social climate after the Babri Masjid demolition, the play caused quiet an uproar amongst Hindu fundamentalists, especially the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), whose supporters disrupted many of its shows, and even emptied the auditoriums, yet he continued to show it all over.

Mr. Sanjay Maharishi and Sudhanva Deshpande in 2005 made a documentary film: Gaon ke naon theatre, mor naon Habib (`My village is theatre, my name is Habib’) on Habib’s life and the Naya Theatre group. In the same year his wife passed away on May 28.

In 2006, he wrote and directed ‘Raj Rakt’, based on two of Rabindranath Tagore’s works, novel Rajarshi, and play Visarjan.

His most famous plays are: Agra Bazar (1954), Shatranj Ke Mohrey (1954), Lala Shoharat Rai (1954), Mitti ki Gaadi (1958), Gaon ke naon Sasural, mor naon Damand (1973), Gaon ke naon Sasural, mor naon Damand (1973), Uttar Ram Charitra (1977), Bahadur kalarin(1978), Ponga Pandit , Jis Lahore Nai Dekhya (1990), Kamdeo ka Apna Basant Ritu ka Sapna (1993), Zahreeli Hawa (2002), Raj Rakt (2006).