Habib Tanvir was an acclaimed poet, actor, theatre director in the 20th century; also an Urdu and Hindi playwrights. He was born on 1st September 1923 in Raipur, Madhya Pradesh. He studied till 10th at Laurie Municipal High School in Raipur; and took his degree from the Morris College, Nagpur in Bachelor of Arts, in the year 1944.
Later he mastered from Aligarh Muslim University. Tanvir married Moneeka Mishra; she died in the year 2005. They have two children Nageen and Anna. In 1945, Tanvir moved to Mumbai, then Bombay; there he joined to All India Radio (AIR); there he became a producer. During that period, he acted in some films and wrote songs for Urdu and Hindi films. By joining Progressive Writers’ Association (PWA) as an actor, he became a part of Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA).
He took over the organisation after the notable IPTA members were imprisoned because of their protest against British rule. In 1954, when Tanvir came back to his hometown,
New Delhi, he worked at Hindustani Theatre of Qudsia Zaidi and worked with Children’s theatre too. There he wrote many plays.
His first play came up on works of 18th century prominent Urdu poet, Nazir Akbarabadi; the play was named ‘Agra Bazar’. He brought residents, folk artists from the village Okhla, situated in Delhi and students from Jamia Millia Islamia together for the play; such scenario appeared the first time in an Indian theatre.
This play was performed at a marketplace than on stage. Tanvir went in the year 1955 to England. There he took training in acting at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA) and also trained in a direction at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School in 1956. Later he travelled in Europe for two years.
During this period, he stayed in Berlin for about eight months, where he saw many play performances of Bertolt Brecht. He was too influenced by these plays. Habib came back to India in the year 1958. He produced a play, which was based on Sanskrit work of Shudraka’s; the play was named ‘Mitti ki Gaadi’.
It was the first Chhattisgarhi production of him. In this play, he worked with six Chhattisgarh folk actors. In 1959, he founded a theatre company named ‘Naya Theatre’. Further, he produced famous plays like ‘Charandas Chor’ (1975); this play marked the new style in modern Indian theatre; it received Fringe Firsts Award in 1982, ‘Gaon ka Naam Sasural, Mor Naam Damaad’ which was based on the comic folk tale and many more plays.
Tanvir also collaborating with
Shyam Benegal made a play based on a film. He has also acted in more than ten films. Few of the films are ‘
Gandhi’ (1982) and ‘
Black and White’. Tanvir’s Chhattisgarhi play ‘Ponga Pandit’, a religious hypocrisy play became controversial in 1990 due to the social mode created, which was created by the demolition of Babri Masjid.
The Hindu fundamentalists like Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) agitated the play; still he continued to perform the play. Tanvir’s work included the work from all genres throughout his career. In 1969, he was honoured with Sangeet Natak Akademi Award. In 1983, he received Padma Shri.
Later in the year 1990, he was honoured with Kalidas Samman and also Padma Bhushan in 2002. Tanvir died on 8th June 2009 in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh. At the annual theatre festival, Bharat Rang Mahotsav of NSD (National School of Drama), an exhibition was displayed to pay tribute to Habib Tanvir and B V Karanth.