Mor Naon Habib

Habib Tanvir passed away on June 8, 2009 at Bhopal. While scholars of drama mark the passing of the prolific legend of contemporary Indian theatre, we also commemorate the writer, poet, actor, organiser of progressive writers and people’s theatre, and the immense contribution he has made to the cultural consciousness of our times.

Habib Tanvir started his career in the theatre in his student days as a member of the Mumbai IPTA (Indian People's Theatre Association), an involvement which many claim was the crucible for all his later work. Tanvir then moved to Delhi and forever changed its theatrical landscape with his seminal production Agra Bazar (1954) which he himself described as “the first serious experiment integrating song with drama and rural actors with urban”. Created with students of Jamia Milia Islamia and residents of the Okhla Industrial Area, it foreshadowed the continual class mix that was to define Naya Theatre later. Creating a palette never seen before in Indian theatre, Tanvir’s stage was not the socially and architecturally walled-in space, but a bazaar -- a marketplace --with all its noise and bustle as well as with all its social, economic and cultural conflicts. This experience with non-trained actors and folk artistes later blossomed with his work with folk artistes of Chhattisgarh. Tanvir blended in the indigenous performance form of nacha into his oeuvre, creating not only a new theatrical language, but also milestones such as Charandas Chor, and Kamdeo ka Apna Basant Ritu ka Sapna, an adaptation of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

One of the highlights of Tanvir’s training in Acting in The Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in between 1955-57 was his eight-month stay in Berlin in 1956, during which he got to see several plays of Bertolt Brecht which proved to be a lasting influence on him, as in the coming years he also used local idioms in his plays to express trans-cultural tales and ideologies, and displayed a penchant for employing music and poetry in plays, not as a superfluous embellishment but, much like Brecht, as an integral part of the action. This gave rise to what has been called a “theatre of roots”. A deeply inspired Habib returned to India in 1958 and took to directing full-time, producing a powerfully experiential, creative and political theatre.

During the last two decades Habib Tanvir’s work resonated strongly in the political life of the country, inviting the ire of the Sangh Parivar for firmly standing against fundamentalism through plays like “Ponga Pandit”, “Zamadarin. Tanvir’s abiding contribution to contemporary culture will be his remarkable incorporation of traditions of folk and tribal theatre, music and language into his modern formal craft.

In 2005, a documentary
Gaon ke naon theatre, mor naon Habib was made on Tanvir, one of the greatest innovators on the Indian proscenium since Independence, and his troupe - Naya Theatre, by Sanjay Maharishi and Sudhanva Deshpande. ‘My village is theatre, my name is Habib' (75 minutes, Hindi, English, Chhattisgarhi with English sub-titles, Sanket Productions, 2005) is an attempt to capture live performance on celluloid. An insightful and lively documentary, the film chronicles Tanvir's involvement with the Indian stage for over five decades, playing concomitantly the roles of playwright, director, designer, singer, composer and occasional actor. It is as much a salute to the others of the group- his wife Monika, the incomparable voice of Bhulwaram and the myriad talents of his daughter Nageen that have made Naya Theatre so exceptional.

In our Documentaries section,
Gaon ke naon theatre, mor naon Habib is available for Rs. 1200 in DVD format and Rs. 700 in VCD format.