Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Tribute to the Bard of Bhopal

Shama Zaidi pays her tribute to late Habib Tanvir:

Like many of his generation of students of AMU, Habib was influenced by leftist politics and this marked his political stance from then onwards, though he threw away his party card very soon after he acquired it. Just before Habib arrived in Bombay, the Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA) had just been founded. He immediately began to take part in its activities. They rehearsed in a hall near Opera House and Habib acted in plays directed by Balraj Sahni and Dina Pathak. I remember him telling us how they used to stage street plays by pretending to be a pickpocket and a policeman quarrelling. The crowd which collected had no idea that this was just a play and by the time they found out and the real police arrived, the actors melted away. When the Communist Party of India was banned many IPTA members were jailed or went underground. From 1948-50, Habib was left with the responsibility of running the organization. After which the doctrinaire Ranadive line made it impossible to do anything worthwhile in theatre and the group became almost defunct.


SUDHANVA DESHPANDE's tribute to the the Bard of Bhopal:

In September-October 2003, on the eve of the State Assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, Habib sa’ab toured these two states extensively with his plays. The Chhattisgarh shows, a majority of them in villages, went off without a hitch. But when the troupe started performing in Madhya Pradesh, they came under attack from the Hindu Right. The play that evoked their ire was that little jewel of the Nacha tradition, a play neither written nor directed by Habib sa’ab, but simply inherited by him via his actors, Ponga Pandit, a rip roaring farce against untouchability.

It was all meticulously planned. In town after town, gangs of saffron activists would land up at the performance venue, and make enough noise to make the district administration jittery about law and order. But Habib sa’ab was considerably more crafty than his imbecile attackers. At Bhopal, they performed his classic Charandas Chor. After the performance, the organisers asked him to introduce his actors. He said, “We are kalakars (artistes); our introduction is our art. Would you like to listen to some songs?” “Yes,” chorused the audience. The actors started singing, and, without anyone realising, seamlessly segued into a performance of Ponga Pandit. By the time the Hindutva zealots realised what was happening, the play was over.


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