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Remembering Habib Saab: personal memories of Ranan Performance Collective, Calcutta
Photos by Nandajan, taken at the International Shakespeare Festival, Kerala, October 2005

June 22, 2009

India – and indeed the world – lost one of the greatest figures of contemporary theatre history on 8 June 2009 with the passing away of Habib Tanvir in Bhopal. We join several others in Calcutta and beyond in remembering this doyen of the theatre. Calcutta has always had a special relationship with Habib Tanvir and Naya Theatre. Habib Saab himself often referred to it as his favourite city to perform in. But beyond even this, is our personal association with Habib Saab – an association that saw him take specific and analytical interest in our performance work and ideas, an association which opened our minds ever so subtly and nudged us gently forward to explore and experience more and more in the magic world of performance.

In April 2004 both Habib Tanvir and his late wife Moneeka Misra Tanvir came down to Calcutta to see our workshop production of our first ever dance and theatre project, Crossings (exploring the facets of Lady Macbeth) for which their daughter, Nageen, created the music. Their inputs and comments were invaluable in the future directions this production was to take. It is now one of Ranan’s most successful and critically acclaimed presentations. Habib Saab joined us at an International Shakespeare Festival in Kerala in October 2005 (see accompanying photographs) and the first Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards in Delhi in January 2006‚ following the development of Crossings with as much passionate interest as he would follow one of his own productions. His appreciative remarks after watching the DVD of the final version of the piece created in December 2007 mean more to us than all other accolades put together.
Our association did not end with Crossings. Habib Saab happened to be in Calcutta for an extended period in 2005 when we were conceiving and choreographing Rangeeniyan, a Kathak production connecting the many moods of love to a journey through the six seasons. Both Debashree Bhattacharya and Vikram Iyengar as choreographers spent several sessions with him where he painstakingly explained the lyrical poetry of Nazir Akbarabadi and Mirza Ghalib word by word, phrase by phrase, metaphor by metaphor. The ghazal by the former was originally set to music by Habib Saab himself for his landmark play, Agra Bazaar, and we were delighted that he permitted us to choreograph it as part of a separate production altogether. In fact, Rangeeniyan is christened by Habib Saab.

The memories go further. He returned to Calcutta once again to see a show of our new production Chitra in August 2007. We rehearsed at his home in Bhopal and had him among our audience when we were invited to perform at the Bharat Bhavan in September 2007. And always, always, always was he there to encourage us, question us, engage us and provoke us.

Habib Saab had once remarked about us:

"Ranan has done marvellous work breaking new ground constantly – changing, improving, discovering and reacting to audiences and their own impulses. No educational institutions to this day have really got a cultural aspect to them. Nobody is taught to really imagine and really explore – probing, finding new things. Ranan aspires to impart this not only to themselves, but leave a heritage to be explored further by upcoming generations."

Ranan turned six on 24 June 2009. Birthdays are a time for introspection, and this year we pledge to revisit the potential that Habib Saab saw in us and live up to it to the best of our ability.

Ranan presents a weekly programme on the Community Radio channel of Jadavpur University, Calcutta (90.8 FM). It is indeed our privilege to conceive and present eight episodes as a humble tribute to Habib Saab looking at his life‚ his work and his incredible contribution to theatre across the globe. We hope to introduce the man‚ his magic and definitely his madness through interviews‚ discussions‚ reminiscences and music from his productions.

Here's to you, Habib Saab – a friend, philosopher‚ guide and much more in the truest sense. We will miss you more than words or actions can ever express.

The Ranan Core Team
Debashree Bhattacharya
Vikram Iyengar
Anubha Fatehpuria
Amlan Chaudhuri
Jayati Chakraborty
Ruchira Das