Thespian Habib Tanvir lived an exhilarating life: it is a justifiable conclusion if we consider merely the triumphant arc of his career. Habib Tanvir—née Habib Ahmed Khan — was born in 1923. He grew up in Raipur, in an atmosphere that celebrated the decadence of mushairas, Kali Bari theatre and Parsi theatre. After finishing his BA from Morris College in Nagpur, he pursued an MA in Urdu from Aligarh university in 1944 (but didn’t finish it) and went off to Bombay to work in cinema, subsequently getting involved in the leftist cultural activities of groups such as the Indian People’s Theatre Association, which was the cultural wing of the CPI, and the Progressive Writers’ Association. Tanvir lived in Bombay for nearly a decade and later spent a year at RADA, the renowned theatre school in London, before moving to the Bristol Old Vic to be a student of production in theatre. He spent three years travelling across Europe, before returning to India to start Naya Theatre.
Tanvir is best known today, then, for his contributions to modern Indian theatre through the founding and running of Naya Theatre, which re-imagined Chhatisgarhi folk theatre rituals with scripts ranging from those that dealt with the life of Nazir Akbarabadi (Agra Bazaar) to those by Brecht (The Good Woman of Szechwan was adapted as Sajapur ki Shanti Bai, for instance). After the death of Tanvir’s wife Moneeka, and Tanvir’s own death in 2009, Naya Theatre was taken over by their daughter Nageen, and continues performances till date.