As a young man, Habib Tanvir was an artiste in search of experience. It took him from small-town Raipur to Bombay of the Forties when the Indian People’s theatre Association, IPTA, was set up; to his study at RADA, London, and back to Raipur via Berlin where he went in search of his idol, poet-playwright Bertolt Brecht, director of the Berliner Ensemble, only to find he had died two weeks ago.
His memoir which encapsulates this first phase of his creative career was discussed in a three-way conversation between dastango, Mahmood Farouqi, theatre expert Piyush Daiya and Hindi novelist Geetanjali Shree on the first day of Jaipur litfest.
The memoir, recently translated from Urdu into English was to be an ambitious three-volume affair and is proof of the artiste’s Zest For Life, said Farouqui, its translator.
Reading from it, Farouqui talked of Tanvir’s delightful eye; Dahiya talked of his ability of writing about his various experience as if he were mounting a scene in a play.
"Babulal’s cinema and Chunnilal’s cinema were the big tent-cinema entertainers of my youth," said Farouqui reading from Tanvir’s book. "Chunnilal, squat and sturdy, did what he liked, he had no sense of time. A 3 o’clock show could become an 8 o’ clock show, until the last ticket was the film wasn’t allowed to start. When it did, he started his commentary, exhorting the hero to ride the horse faster, asking him to woo the heroine with finesse and such like. It was difficult to say whether people came to watch the films or watch Chunnilal," he added.
Geetanjali Shree drew attention to the non-patronising dialogue between folk and classical forms in Tanvir’s art and the new form that he evolved from their interaction.
His vision in art and life, as apparent in his recounting of his father’s sister, has always veered towards areas between black and white, she said. "He was incisive, he saw things at a slant," she said.
Nacha, the Chattisgarhi form, he used by collecting old folk traditions, is now under threat, said Farouqui; many of its artistes are forced to sing Bollywood songs.