One of India's theatrical giants, playwright Habib Tanvir, has passed away.
His theatre was a blend of tradition and modernity, and folk creativity and the modern critical consciousness that took shape during his early years with Left cultural organisations like the Indian People’s Theatre Association.
Charandas Chor, one of his many plays, won him international acclaim at the Edinburgh International Drama Festival in 1982. It was also the play that introduced Calcutta, at the time the Mecca of Indian theatre, to Tanvir’s work in 1981. Since then, he performed dozens of times in this city where his wife, partly Bengali, had roots.
Tanvir wore his political thinking on his sleeves. He wrote a play called Indra Sabha for the Congress when it was in its socialist phase under Indira Gandhi.
He had said: “We don’t have the gumption that we can change society with theatre but we have the conceit we can influence public opinion.”
Here is a good article from 2001 that covers his history and his methods and movements.
But I especially like this story from another theater artist:
I met the legendary founder of the Naya Theatre when we were both in search of an exit. Delhi’s English-language theatre was inundated with bedroom farces, and that evening’s comedy at the Kamani auditorium was unbearably bad. Sneaking away at interval, I found the front door locked—presumably by a director aware that there was no better way to retain his audience. A rumpled man with black-framed spectacles beckoned me over conspiratorially: “Look! We can escape from the side.”
With the brashness of youth, I told him why I thought Delhi theatre was terrible. He was gentle with my ignorance. “Try your luck further down the road,” he said, mentioning a play festival at Mandi House. He spoke of Alkazi, Girish Karnad, Badal Sarkar and then said, “I’ve done a little play writing myself. There’s one you might like, called Agra Bazaar. My name’s Habib Tanvir.”