Tanvir, who died in Bhopal at the age of 85, had scripted the play that catapulted him to the centre-stage of the Hindustani theatre movement, deftly weaving it around the writings of Mughal era “people’s poet” Nazeer Akbarabadi.
“Only twice has this play been staged in Agra by different theatre groups, but it would not be a bad idea if, for the benefit of visiting tourists, the play was daily enacted in an auditorium because it does depict the richness and diversity of our culture in a powerful way,” Jitendra Raghvanshi, national general secretary of the Indian People’s Theatre Association.
The play proved a landmark in Tanvir’s life and also a milestone in the history of Indian theatre. At a meet of theatre people to pay homage to Tanvir here, there was near-unanimity that the city should have something to remember him by.
Raghvanshi says Agra should erect a fitting memorial to Tanvir, the people’s real voice, who championed varied causes through the medium of theatre.
Though the play was scripted in 1954 – the first show was in fact presented in a bazar and not in an auditorium – Tanvir began staging it regularly only from 1958. Last year the play completed 50 years, but Agra theatre lovers forgot to organise any programme for its golden jubilee celebrations.
“It was not an ordinary play, but a faithful chronicle of the times. Almost like a documentary, it tried to portray life in its myriad manifestations across the city which in those days was the centre of politics and culture,” said Braj Mandal Heritage Conservation Society president Surendra Sharma.
He said “Agra Bazar” was indeed heritage and should be preserved in its pure form. The cast of the play was all untrained and thus brought a degree of freshness and rich rawness, Sharma added.
The play is set in the 19th century when the Mughal empire was tottering and Agra – famous the world over for the Taj Mahal – was being constantly attacked and plundered by the Marathas, the Rajputs, the English and the Jats.
It portrays a city’s struggle in recessionary days through commoners – the kakdiwala, the patangwala, fakir, businessman, madari, hizra, tarboozwala – who are in deep despair because there are no buyers. The characters represent in full the diversity of Indian culture.
“‘Agra Bazar’ banks heavily on Nazeer Akbarabadi’s poetical contributions, his nazms and the force of his simple poetry in Urdu-Braj Bhasha mix are impregnated with profound philosophy,” says Raghvanshi.
“Nazeer showcased Agra through his detailed description of the narrow lanes, the everyday scenes in the bazars, the court rooms, the vegetable markets, and portrayed the city’s composite culture.”
Culture critic Mahesh Dhakar recalls the staging of the play here in 2005 during the ‘Moon Mahotsava’ festival.
“Habib Tanvir spent three days in Agra and interacted with the local theatre groups. Agra’s life and culture was presented in all its richness through Habib’s play all over the world,” he says. “Theatre lovers in Berlin had virtually fallen in love with the play,” says Dhakar.