Habib Tanvir

Habib Ahmed Khan TanvirHabib Tanvir — Habib Ahmed Khan ‘tanvir’ (1 September 1923 – 8 June 2009) was born on September 1, 1923 in Raipur, Chhattisgarh, to Hafiz Ahmed Khan, who hailed from Peshawar.

He passed his matriculation from Laurie Municipal High School, Raipur, and later completed his B.A. from Morris College, Nagpur in 1944. Thereafter he attended Aligarh Muslim University, for a year doing his M.A. first year.

Early in life, he started writing poetry and took upon a takhalluz, pen name, Tanvir, and soon he was being called, Habib Tanvir.

Habib Tanvir was one of the most popular Hindi playwrights, a theatre director, poet and actor. He is the writer of plays such as, Agra Bazar (1954) and Charandas Chor (1975). A pioneer in Hindi theatre, he is most known for his work with Chhattisgarhi tribals, at the Naya Theatre, a theatre company he founded in 1959 in Bhopal, and went on to include indigenous performance forms such as nacha, to create not only a new theatrical language, but also milestones such as Charandas Chor, Gaon Ka Naam Sasural, Mor Naam Damad and Kamdeo Ka Apna Basant Ritu Ka Sapna.

For him true “theatre of the people” existed in the villages, which he strived to bring to the urban “educated”, employing both folk performers as actors alongside urban actors. He died on 8th of June 2009 at Bhopal after a three week long illness.

During his lifetime he won several national and international awards, including the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1969, Padma Shri in 1983, Kalidas Samman 1990, Sangeet Natak Akademi Fellowship in 1996, and the Padma Bhushan in 2002; apart from that he had also been nominated to become a member of the Upper House of Indian Parliament, the Rajya Sabha (1972-1978). His play ‘Charandas Chor’ (Charandas, The Thief) got him the Fringe Firsts Award at Edinburgh International Drama Festival in 1982, and in 2007, it was credited for “an innovative dramaturgy equally impelled by Brecht and folk idioms, Habib Tanvir seduces across language barriers in this his all-time biggest hit about a Robin Hood-style thief” as it was included in the Hindustan Times’ list of ‘India’s 60 Best works since Independence’.

During his career, Habib has acted in over nine feature films, including Richard Attenborough’s film, Gandhi (1982).

His first brush with controversy came about in the 1990s, with his production of a traditional Chhattisgarhi play about religious hypocrisy, ‘Ponga Pandit’. The play was based on a folk tale and had been created by Chhattisgarhi theatre artists in the 1930s. Though he had been producing it since the sixties, in the charged social climate after the Babri Masjid demolition, the play caused quiet an uproar amongst Hindu fundamentalists, especially the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), whose supporters disrupted many of its shows, and even emptied the auditoriums, yet he continued to show it all over.

His Chhattisgarhi folk troupe, surprised again, with his rendition of Asghar Wajahat’s ‘Jisne Lahore Nahin Dekhya’ in 1992. Then in 1993 came, ‘Kamdeo Ka Apna Basant Ritu Ka Sapna’, Tanvir’s Hindi adaptation of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. In 2002, he directed, ‘Zahareeli Hawa’, a translation of a play by the Canadian-Indian playwright Rahul Varma, based on the Bhopal Gas Tragedy.

In 2005, a documentary: Gaon ke naon theatre, mor naon Habib (`My village is theatre, my name is Habib’) was made on his life and the Naya Theatre group, by Sanjay Maharishi and Sudhanva Deshpande, and also in the same year, his wife Moneeka Misra passed away on May 28.

In 2006, he wrote and directed ‘Raj Rakt’, based on two of Rabindranath Tagore’s works, novel Rajarshi, and play Visarjan.

He was in the process of finalizing his autobiography, Matmaili Chadariya in Urdu, when he died in the early hours of June 8, 2009, in Bhopal. He is survived by his daughters Anna and Nageen.


  • Agra Bazar (1954)
  • Shatranj Ke Mohrey (1954)
  • Lala Shoharat Rai (1954)
  • Mitti ki Gaadi (1958)
  • Gaon ke naon Sasural, Mor naon Damand (1973)
  • Charandas Chor (1975)
  • Uttar Ram Charitra (1977)
  • Bahadur kalarin(1978)
  • Ponga Pandit (1960s) [16]
  • Ek Aurat Hypathia bhi Thee (1980s)
  • Jis Lahore Nai Dekhya (1990)
  • Kamdeo ka Apna Basant Ritu ka Sapna (1993)
  • Zahreeli Hawa (2002)
  • Raj Rakt (2006)


  • Foot Path (1953)
  • Rahi (1953)
  • Charandas Chor (1975) (lyrics and script)
  • Staying On (1980) (TV)
  • Gandhi (1982)
  • Yeh Woh Manzil to Nahin (1987)
  • Man-Eaters of Kumaon (1986) (TV)
  • Hero Hiralal (1988)
  • Prahaar (1991)
  • The Burning Season (1993)
  • The Rising: Ballad of Mangal Pandey (2005)
  • Black & White (2008)

Awards & Honours

  • Sangeet Natak Akademi Award 1969
  • Padma Shri 1983
  • Kalidas Samman 1990
  • Sangeet Natak Akademi Fellowship in 1996
  • Padma Bhushan in 2002
  • Nominated as a member of the Upper House of Indian Parliament, the Rajya Sabha (1972-1978)

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