Dancing at 80 - Habib Tanvir and Naya Theatre
Director: Mahmood Farooqui
Duration: 00:29:06; Aspect Ratio: 1.333:1; Hue: 25.028; Saturation: 0.130; Lightness: 0.345; Volume: 0.165; Cuts per Minute: 5.221; Words per Minute: 75.602
Summary: From a Sarai synopsis -
Made on the occasion of Habib Tanvir's eightieth birthday, Mahmood Farooqui's documentary provides a slice of life account of Naya Theatre at work. Made with rudimentary equipment and sometimes technically poor, the film parallels, in some ways, the poor infrastructural condition in which the theatre was produced.
The film creates two parallel streams. One part of it deals with the vision, aspiration and world view of Habib Tanvir which relies on interviews with him in a green room, at the final dress rehearsal, while he rehearses on an open terrace amidst jagran bhajan loudspeakers in Bhopal and at his house.
The second part of the film contains conversations with his actors many of whom have now died or have retired including the legendary singer Bholua Ram, Govind Ram Nirmalkar, Poonam Tiwari and Chaitram. The actors have a different and bittersweet understanding of their practice, of their journey and their own regrets.
Not aspiring to any completeness the film merely puts the conversations on a public platform, leaving the audience to work out their own wholeness.
AGRA BAZAR - 50TH YEAR OF PERFORMANCE
Naya Theatre was formed in 1959 by Monica Mishra and Habib Tanvir. Combining tribal artists from Chhattisgarh with urban actors, the troupe runs without any external support. It has performed classical Sanskrit plays as well as modern European ones to great national and internation acclaim.
Habib: In my case, the assurance came from the fact that I do a play like Charandas Chor or Sasural (Gaon ke Naam Sasural), even today young audience who have heard and want to know what it's all about. Now that is very reassuring because this is the TV audience. And, superficially looking, you can write off this generation, but I have not written them off because there is something that they feel - some thirst. Some chasm. If that is being filled by some theatres, there is still hope.
Habib is tired now. He is very tired. But one has to go on.
Habib: If there is life, it must be endured.
While there is life on has to endure...
(Scene from a performance)
Dancing at 80 - Habib Tanvir's Naya Theatre
Habib's voice: Naya Theatre is one of the modern theatres, one among several possible ways to doing a play and mine is also a quite significant way. After all there is something to be said about taking...deriving strength from tradition and not being slavishly stuck to it. For transforming it catalystically and harnessing it to your purpose. To a contemporary modern purpose. In this multinational, multicultural, multilinguistic country there must be multinational theatres.
I like to always have a repertory because the actors have nothing else to worry about and are ready to go on stage 24 hours a day. It is important to evolve together otherwise you are just a director who is technically directing and not evolving. It has been exceedingly difficult, because, quite frankly, in the beginning, these folk actors came, got a cultural shock, and went back on some pretext or the other, got concocted messages sent and went away. I would say love-hate relationship. There was ingratitude, deceptions, letting me down through devious ways, time and again, saying one thing and doing another. And the open door policy which I have kept, no written contract, nothing. You can go whenever you want to - if you are able to speak your mind out to me, then fine; if not, you can go anyway. And you want to come back, I'd take them back. It is a kind of feudal relaionship. But there is some respect and a lot of trust by now. And there is on their part often examples of ingratitude. It has hurt me too.
Monica: Naya Theatre was born when we got together, because when we got together in '59, then we gave it the name Naya Theatre. And it was a new kind of theatre; I'll tell you why - because for the first time in our lives, we got folk artists. From the villages (in) which Habib had done tremendous amount of research, nobody's aware of it. Because he loved to do that work.
All night we would sit in the villages, and listen to song and dance, and watch dramas. He picked up songs which he remembered from childhood. He gathered them - some of them even artists don't remember. Some of our old artists don't remember the tunes. He remembered the tunes and then they picked their minds and said - haan, haan, this is the tune.
Chaitram and Bholuaram, Naya Theatre actors.
Govindram Nirmalkar, Naya Theatre actor.
We used to perform Nacha in the villages, a folk dance drama in the villages. There were two of us, Thakur Ram and myself, and we worked together. The Nacha was very popular, so Habib Saheb sent someone to our village and said, take my name and they will come. The man came to my house, and while Thakur Ram didn't come, I came. When I came to the city, I found it very strange. But he said, don't worry, it is the same as in the village, there is no difference. Just do what you used to do. Don't worry about speaking. I said, ok sir, I'll speak in Chhattisgarhi, there is no need for Hindi.
(Scene from a play)
In A Midsummer Night's Dream, there is a dialogue. In the beginning I had a lot of difficulty with it and I got nervous and felt I wouldn't be able to do the thing, so I went to Habib Saheb and said I can't do this role. He said - no, you'd be able to do it, then he made me learn it, so I memorised it and now I enjoy it. So there is a problem in the beginning but once you learn it, it becomes alright and it is fun.
Veeru, musician: I used to play the tabla, then the dholak (drum) and then I gradually learned to play the harmonium. But in the very beginning, I played the manjira (cymbals). I observed, asked around and learnt on my own. Nobody taught me formally. Now I want to be an actor.
Poonam Tiwari, actor and singer: What I like most about Habib Saheb's style of working is that he sees how much an actor can do. Where can they reach on their own...he lets him be, so that they find their own space.
Chaitram, second generation Naya Theatre actor: Yes, I've been watching them from my childhood, since I was born. I have learnt by seeing my father, doing roles that he had done. He played a woman and now I do that.
Govindram: Once, there was a big problem during the play Mirza Shohrat, where my teacher had to say ishq, as in love, but he just couldn't say ishq, he would end up saying iks, so Habib Saheb got angry and screamed at him, which made him more nervous. The thing is that we react badly to shouting, so that day went by like that. All night, we tried to get him to say ishq but he would not fall in love. Eventually he learnt it and when Habib Saheb met him at breakfast, he said ishq. Habib Saheb laughed and said - I know that once you have memorised it everything will be okay.
To me, he is both a teacher as well as a father figure. I have been with him since the beginning. If you stay together for that long, there will be differences. We had left him but he called us back. Maybe he missed us. There is always leaving and returning.
Habib: I had started in 1958, by the time I came to realise that I must have these folk actors and these alone, as my nucleus with their mother tongue and that freedom given to them - I had spent 12 to 15 years to discover this so that I was groping in the right direction. And then I realised that their faculty, their memory and theirs ears were much sharper than the educated middle-class town people and city boys. They having heard the script once, I would tell them to get up and improvise and in just two or three readings, by hearing it, they would come as close to the text, the written word as possible. There are examples galore of their memory.
Govindram: When Charandas Chor was performed at the Edinburgh festival we received the same response there as we would get in India. People laughed at the same dialogues as they would here. We were amazed at this but we learnt later that they would look at the brochure and watch us act and get a hang of everything and they would and say - 'thank you', and 'wonderful' to us. And then when we received the first prize we realised that they had enjoyed it. They laughed at the same points as the audience here, it was amazing.
Habib: Dhanno Lal says he made a phone call for 8 rupees, a local call, but Monica is saying she didn't get any long call. Don't they give a receipt for phone calls?
(Offscreen voice): Not for local (calls).
Habib:...my own treasurer, my own manager, my own bookkeeper, almost everything rolled into one - it's a one-man company.
What's great about Habib Saheb's plays is - very simple narratives, a lot of music, dance, humour - so there is entertainment and there are nuances. And the stories have something or the other to tell, like Agra Bazar, for instance, has a huge canvas where historical changes are taking place in India. And there is this poet who's writing against the grain of the day for the common people, and writing about common things, about small little things in life. Now that - it's as simple as that, or you know, any of his other plays for that matter. Kamadev ka Sapna, of course, is a great translation and I've seen others done by the NSD of Shakespeare's Midnight's Dream (sic) (Midsummer Night's Dream) but there is nothing like it.
(Scene from a play)
Rana: They say that there were many offers from films and TV but Habib Saheb never let anyone go. Yet I also think that they are here today only because of him.
And these actors are so good at comedy that you don't really find anywhere else in the country.
Govindram: Sometimes, when I have to interact with educated people, I do feel that if I were literate I would have been better off. Like yesterday, I went into a bank and there was this writer who kept staring at me like he recognised me. He came to me and said - are you with Habib's group? I said yes. He said, "Is your name Govindram?" I said yes. He then introduced me to everyone there as a great artist and served me tea. Everyone there was addressing him as 'sir'. At that time, I felt at a loss. At such times, I felt that perhaps if I were educated, I could hold my own.
Habib: That may be their perception; mine is that were they even slightly educated, they would be less talented because I do think that the education system only ends up cramping personalities and makes them behave in this civilised so-called way and the actors can only end up with 'hands in their pockets' type of acting. Here they have abandon and total lack of inhibition, simply because they are rural and rustic. The school system only does harm to children who grow up as people without expressiveness and talent.
(Scene from a play)
Habib: Art is all about having everything, good, bad, indifferent, compromises opportunistic art so that you can discern the good from the bad otherwise there would only be uniformity and homogeneity.
Monica: You see, Peter Brook came to India and he went to the NSD and he was disappointed with the NSD. What he saw there, and he didn't like everything very proper. Toh one fellow brought him over to our theatre. We were living just near JNU in a village. Ber Sarai. There was a rudimentary courtyard we used to rehearse. So Peter brook came to us. And he stayed with us for two-three hours. And he immediately went back to London, and he said that if you want to call a group call Habib Tanvir's group and he has given a very good write-up.
Habib: The Artist's Politics does not matter at all; it has no bearing. When I got this Kalidasa Samman, I quoted this faqir I had seen who used to say I would take five paise and give you five abuses. So I said I would take your award but would not give up my right to abuse you because art, story, poetry, drama, painting - everything creative must be anti-establishment. If you are capturing some aspect of reality or the truth then you can't be tactful about it. You have to question it head on. I see this conflict running right through history.
Shalini Vatsa: He's complete as far as the medium of stage goes in terms of the understanding of music, in terms of writing, in terms of direction, acting, the craft, dance.
(Scenes from a rehearsal)
Habib: Now, we have been dragged into - everything has been dragged into the market, religion included. Religion has a lot of culture, and that culture has come into the market. All these loudspeakers that you have been hearing in Bhopal and elsewhere is market. It is hardly religion. Same thing with the arts - television is giving another kind of perception to people. And that is affected the actors speech patterns.
Habib: Why do I keep looking beyond the end...
what do I care for the pain except it is the sole sign of my faithfulness.
Writer, director, musician and manager Habib Tanvir runs Naya Theatre from Bhopal in Central India along with his wife Monica Mishra Tanvir. Spanning the entire era of free India, Naya Theatre has blended folk, classical and modern forms and actors into a seamless web of song and dance that continues to enthrall an entirely new generation of Indians. The resources for running a full-time and paid independent repertory come mostly from performances. They intend to go on as long as the shows continue to thrill them.