A tiff and an insult later, Raipur theatre fest in Habib Tanvir’s memory gets new name

A TWO-DAY theatre festival to commemorate the 99th birth anniversary of theatre stalwart Habib Tanvir, which got underway here on Wednesday, has generated keen interest among the people. More so because of its in-your-face title – “Sanskriti Vibhaag Tumhaare Baap Ka Nahi Natya Mahotsav” – and the backstage story.

The free-entry event is being seen as a move of defiance by its organisers, a Raipur-based theatre group, which had a tiff with the Chhattisgarh Culture Department over holding the festival.

Organiser Yog Mishra from the Abhinat Film and Drama Foundation said the event’s name is drawn from an insult hurled at him when he approached the Culture Department with a proposal to hold the festival.

The original plan was to hold a five-day event, Habib Tanvir Theatre Festival, for which Mishra said he approached the Director of Culture Department for support on August 5.

“My students had been practising five dramas for some time and we thought of organising this event. When I went to the Culture Department looking for help, the Director told me, ‘Sanskriti Vibhaag tumhaare baap ka nahi hai’,” Mishra, a close associate of Habib Tanvir, told The Indian Express.

“All I’d asked in my proposal was Rs 2.5 lakh for the five-day function. I was ready to take any help, be it for lights or venue. I had taken an official proposal and was looking for support, instead I got insulted,” the 60-year-old said.

Culture Department Director Vivek Acharya said Mishra was using the department’s name to garner publicity for his event.

“There is a process and official procedure for submitting such proposals. He never submitted any formal proposal. He was rude and insulting to me in my office on August 5,” Acharya said.

“He [Mishra] had planned to organise five days of the play Dayashankar, which the department had already funded for the same organisation in January 2020. Since it was a repeat and because there are Covid-19 guidelines in place, I told him to organise a one-day event, for which the department would have provided help. But he was adamant to hold the programme his way,” said Acharya.

“He eventually said, ‘Department ka koi maai-baap nahi hai‘ (the department is running without any authority). Which is when I had to tell him, ‘Agar department ka maai-baap nahi hai to department aapke baap ka bhi nahi hai‘ (if there is no authority running the department, the department is not your personal property),” the Director said.

Mishra accused Acharya of lying. “Why would I go to him with only one play, when we had prepared five plays? He is lying to save face and accusing me of being rude. I was thrown out of the official government WhatsApp group after my tiff. The department is trying to silence voices that speak the truth,” he said.

Mishra, who is associated with theatre for past 40 years, said he decided to rename the festival’s name after his meeting with the Director. “I told him that he had not seen the end of me, and I started working on getting as much private support as possible,” he said.

Eventually, his friend Hindi film actor Sanjeev Batra helped him secure the venue – Old Rang Mandir Bhawan. “Help poured in from friends from Raipur and Mumbai, which is how we could organise the event,” Mishra said.

Although five plays were scheduled in the original plan, it was changed to three plays in two days after one of the lead actors met with an accident on August 14, Mishra said. The plays are Sakubai and Dayashankar, written by Nadira Babbar decades ago, and Nirmal Verma’s Dedh Inch Upar. The plays have been translated in Chhattisgarhi and directed by Mishra.

Despite the title of the event, Mishra said, the idea behind it has not changed. The event will also honour theatre veterans from Chhattisgarh and hold a discussion on the life and works of Raipur-born Habib Tanvir, a pioneer of Urdu and Hindi Theatre and Padma Bhushan recipient, who passed away in 2009.

“How will the future generations remember Habib Tanvir unless we who have worked with him impart that knowledge and experience? We have seen art and craft suffer for our generation, I will not let that happen for the future generation too,” Mishra said.

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