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India@75

1959: Habib Tanvir establishes Naya Theatre 

Print edition : Sep 08, 2022 T+T-

1959: Habib Tanvir establishes Naya Theatre 

Habib Tanvir, a 2007 photograph.

Habib Tanvir, a 2007 photograph. | Photo Credit: P.V. SIVAKUMAR

Tanvir ruptured conventional theatre and ushered in a new era in public culture.

When Habib Tanvir established Naya Theatre in 1959 with his wife, Moneeka Misra, the group went on to redefine modern Indian stagecraft. He sang, wrote poems, directed plays, scripted dialogues, composed music, acted, and managed his theatre group, all with equal aplomb. His vast body of work in newly independent India revolved around issues such as nation, identity and democracy. He imbued the ideas of secularism, modernity and justice in everything he did. 

Also read: 1953: ‘Andha Yug’ by Dharamvir Bharati, and Theatre of Roots

Tanvir was born in Raipur in 1923. Most of his plays under the Naya Theatre banner were performed by actors from Chhattisgarh who were largely trained in the local performative tradition of the Nacha. An oral tradition, Nacha combines dance, music, acrobatics and improvised dialogues to tell a story. Tanvir ruptured the conventional modes of doing theatre and ushered in a new era in public culture.

In his formative years, Tanvir reviewed films in English, wrote poems in Urdu and was exposed to touring Parsi theatre and all-night Nacha performances in Chhattisgarh. He joined the Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA) as an actor and director in Mumbai. He was influenced by Brecht and the Berliner Ensemble during his training at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, the Bristol Old Vic and the British Drama League in the UK. He set up Hindustani Theatre along with Qudsia Zaidi and M.S. Sathyu before establishing Naya Theatre, for which he scripted plays in English, Hindi and Urdu.

Also read: India at 75: Epochal moments from the 1950s

In 1970, he revived his play Agra Bazaar, earlier staged with students of Jamia Millia and villagers of Okhla. Based on the life of the Urdu poet Nazir Akbarabadi, the remake was enacted by actors from Chhattisgarh. Charandas Chor (1975), a satire, became his biggest hit, drawing full houses for nearly three decades across Europe and India. A film version was directed by Shyam Benegal while the play was still in production. Tanvir continued to tour with his group well into his 80s and took an active interest in the matters of the day until he died in 2009. He was rewarded in India and abroad with several accolades, including a Padma Shree, a Padma Bhushan and a nomination to the Rajya Sabha.