Man who knit India and Bharat through theatre passes away | india | Hindustan Times
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Man who knit India and Bharat through theatre passes away

Veteran Indian playwright and theatre director Habib Ahmed Khan ‘Tanvir’ died on June 8, in Bhopal, aged 85, after a brief illness. Tanvir was reportedly admitted to hospital three weeks ago with breathing difficulties, reports Renuka Narayanan.

india Updated: Jun 09, 2009 00:55 IST
Renuka Narayanan

Veteran Indian playwright and theatre director Habib Ahmed Khan ‘Tanvir’ died on June 8, in Bhopal, aged 85, after a brief illness. Tanvir was reportedly admitted to hospital three weeks ago with breathing difficulties.

He leaves behind a daughter, Nagin, who is a Hindustani vocal singer, having debuted at the home of Bhopal-based dhrupad maestros Umakant and Ramakant Gundecha. Tanvir’s wife and professional partner, Moneeka Mishra, died in 2005. Tanvir’s burial will take place in the Bada Bara graveyard in Bhopal on Tuesday evening.

Born on September 1, 1923 at Raipur in Chhattisgarh, Tanvir schooled in Nagpur. He was the organiser, secretary, playwright and actor-director of the Left-leaning, progressive and secular Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA) during 1948-50. He went on to study at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA), London, in 1955 and traveled thereafter in Europe during 1956-57.

Tanvir founded a theatre company called the Naya Theatre in 1959. He wrote and acted in plays like Agra Bazar (1954), Charandas Chor, Moteram ka Satyagraha (based on Hindi writer Premchand’s story) and others that became milestones in contemporary Indian theatre history. He was the first to meld the Chhattisgarhi, Pandvani and Nacha folk dance and song forms of his region in his theatre, bringing urban and rural actors together in one production.

Tanvir explored a large bandwidth of content in his theatre, from Sanskrit drama and Shakespeare to tribal and folk themes and contemporary European satire.

He acted in nine feature films, including a role in Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi. In the Nineties, his play Ponga Pandit on communal politics was repeatedly attacked by the extreme right-wing parties, but he continued to stage it nevertheless.

A founder-trustee of the NGO, Sahmat, formed in consequence of the murder of theatre-activist Safdar Hashmi, Tanvir was an important organiser and participant in Sahmat’s Hum Sab Ayodhya exhibition and the Mukt Naad cultural sit-in in Ayodhya in 1993, after the Babri Masjid demolition. He became the Chairman of Sahmat in 2003 after writer Bhisham Sahni’s passing away.

Awarded Indian state honours like the Padma Shri in 1983 and the Padma Bhushan in 2002, Tanvir was nominated as a member of the Rajya Sabha from 1972 to 1978. Three NGOS – Sahmat, Jana Natya Manch and Janvadi Lekhak Sangh, will hold a memorial meeting for Tanvir at 6.00 pm onWednesday, June 10, at Muktadhara Auditorium, Banga Sanskriti Bhavan, 18-19 Bhai Veer Singh Marg, near Gol Market in New Delhi.

Habib Tanvir’s theatre contemporary, the legendary Ebrahim Alkazi, declined to comment on his death on the grounds that he had not seen enough of Tanvir’s work to pass an opinion.