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Relive Habib Tanvir's magical theatre

I got lucky when I was young. Habib Tanvir had got it into his head to create a new theatre idiom. He had been experimenting for some time, and in the 1970s, had made his breakthrough with the inimitable Charandas Chor. With his wonderful company of Chhattisgarhi actors, he proceeded to make more delightful plays.


Habib Tanvir as Raja ka Sala

In the early 1980s, Habibsaab and Naya Theatre came to Calcutta (now Kolkata). I was between 10 and 13 years old, and watched Charandas Chor, Mitti ki Gadi and Bahadur Kalarin — I can’t remember the year or my age, but I have a clear tactile memory of the place, the street, the light, the hall. I remember being swallowed in the magical worlds created by those fabulous actors from Naya Theatre.


Sameera Iyengar

I gave myself up to the experience. I let Fida Bai and company transport me through spaces and moods. I watched them transform a simple platform into a field, a temple, a storehouse, a treasury, a queen’s bedroom — simply through performance and use of space. They believed, I believed, and we joyfully unleashed our imaginations to create shared worlds. In place of the platform, I saw and experienced different spaces so clearly, that if I could draw, I would paint you detailed pictures.

¬†I went on emotional, empathetic journeys. I laughed, I cried, I listened, I wondered, I understood, grappled, held my breath, and sat stunned in silence. The gamut of my feelings raced through, and as they did, little windows of understanding began to open. Windows I revisit constantly — these are my reference points of understanding against which, I make sense of my real-life experiences.

Till date, the heart-stopping scene in Charandas — where the queen orders his arrest, shows me how we can all be trapped by our circumstances. In those days, the world had opened up. I embraced a sense of possibility and freedom I had only sensed before.

I learned to connect and share deeply with strangers. I understood life as contradictory, conflictual, and simultaneously; joyful and playful. I learned that grown ups didn’t have to become solemn. That in fact, if you were seriously silly, if you kept your child inside you, you would live well. I learned an attitude towards life that has stayed with me.

Habibsaab is gone, but there are many magical theatre companies and artistes who nurture and celebrate freedom and creativity, delight and joy. We need to find ways to connect with them and their work — to share the magic time and again. This is our Junoon. We will share the essential richness of the arts through plays, workshops, interactions, and more. Right now, with Arts at Play-Summertime, 32 creative workshops for children from six to 16 can help nurture and celebrate this human magic, creativity and freedom.

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