30 Habib Tanveer’s Charandas Chor& Dakxin Bajrange Chahra’s Budhan Bolta Hai

Abu Saleh

About the chapter


This module introduces you to one of the major theatre directors of India, Mr. Habib Tanveer and also his iconic play Charandas Chor. Further, it also talks about a bright young theatre activist Mr. Dakxin Bajrange Chhara and his play Budhan Bolta He. First, you will be introduced to the life, career and other works of Habib Tanveer and Dakxin Bajrange. Later, on in this module we will discuss the plays and critically analyse both the plays along with some other interesting facts about them.


About Habib Tanveer:


Habib Tanveer was born on 1st September, 1923 in Raipur, Chhattisgarh in colonial India as Habib Ahmed Khan. He was called Baba at home. He used to write poetry with the pseudonym Tanveer. Later he dropped the name Ahmed Khan and just called himself as ‘Habib Tanveer’. His father, Hafiz Ahmed Khan, was from Peshawar and mother from Raipur. His maternal uncles were interested in music and poetry whereas his paternal family was very religious in nature. His elder brother used to take part in amateur plays and perform women’s role. In his childhood once a year there used to be performances in nearby Kalibari. It used to be in Urdu language and were organised by the Parsi Theatre companies of that time. Tanveer used to go to see these plays. For the first time Habib performed on stage when he was 11 or 12 years old. He enacted the role of Arthur from Shakespeare’s play KingJohn. Later, he also acted in a big play written by his Persian teacher, Mohammed Isaakh. Further he acted in another play about a young shoeshine boy. For his performances Habib received local awards called Thakur Pyarelal Award.


Tanveer completed his early education from Raipur and went to Aligarh Muslim University. Later, he went to Bombay to become an actor. To survive he took up various jobs like he worked in Bombay All India Radio and was an editor of a magazine called Box Office. During his stay in Bombay he got associated with the All India Progressive Writers’ Association (AIPWA) and Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA). Later in 1955 he went on a scholarship to England at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA) to study theatre and later shifted to the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. However, he was greatly influenced by the folk theatre tradition and the German dramatist Bertolt Brecht. Tanveer returned to India and in 1959 found Naya Theatre with his wife, Moneeka Mishra. He has staged European to Indian classics with the tinge of local folk elements. He has staged many plays with the local folk artists. Tanveer passed away leaving the legacy of folk theatre behind on 8th June 2009.


Works of Habib Tanveer:


He directed many plays like ShatranjKeMohrey (1954), LalaShoharatRai (1954), MittikiGaadi (1958), GaonkeNaonSasural, MorNaonDamaad (1973), CharandasChor (1975), UttarRamCharitra (1977), BahadurKalarin (1978), PongaPandit (1960s), EkAuratHypathiaBhiThee (1980s), JisneLahoreNaiDekhya (1990), KamdeokaApnaBasantRitukaSapna (1993), TheBrokenBridge (1995), ZahreeliHawa (2002), RajRakt (2006) and so on. AgraBazar (1954) is one of his famous plays which is based on the works and times of Wali Muhammad, pseudonym Nazir Akbarabadi (1735-1830), a significant Urdu poet who introduced the genre Nazm into Urdu literature.


Style of Habib Tanveer:


As mentioned earlier Tanveer was interested in local dialects and used to experiment with his folk artists more specifically Chhattisgarhi folk artists and music. He has staged European to Indian classics by adding various local folk elements in them.


About Dakxin Bajrange Chhahra:


Dakxin Bajrange was born in the Chhara community which is considered as a Criminal Tribe. He has four brothers and his father named all of them based on the directions of compass for example Dakxin means south in hope that they will travel far. Bajrange’s brother Uttar, North, is indeed pursuing engineering in an American University, an achievement for the Chhara community. However, Bajrange did not do well in English medium school and thus he was shifted to Gujrati medium school. There he began to perform well and completed his B. A. in Psychology. He had passion for Bollywood movies and wanted to enter in the film industry.


His love for movies began in childhood and used to spend his hard earned pocket money watching movies in local video stores. Later, he and his friends began to experiment with films. As he says, ‘‘we didn’t know what the hell we were doing but we would just photograph ourselves doing dramatic things’’ (quoted in ). After his studies, he began advertising business. It is his first experience as a playwright and actor in the Budhan that helped him in getting a job at Tara Cable Channel run by Mallika Sarabhai, a well-known dancer and social activist. There he began to make documentary films on diverse social issues. His skills developed during his work at the Tara Channel.


Dakxin has many accolades to his name including awards for documentary filmmaking and a fellowship to undertake a project at the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom. He received the Mahatma Gandhi Bi-yearly National Award for Creative Writing in Hindi from the Commission of Human Rights, for his autobiography and collection of plays Budhan Bolta Hai in August 2014. Dakxin’s film Sundarana was selected for screening at the 2015 Taiwan International Ethnographic Film Festival in 2015. Furthermore, Dakxin recently completed shooting a Hindi movie called Dhusar.


Budhan Theatre:


Budhan Theatre is run and managed by Dakxin Bajrange Chhara with the assistance of Roxy Gagdekar Chhara. They belong to the Chharanagar community. The theatre was first initiated with the help of personalities like Dr. G. N. Devy, a literary critic, linguist and tribal activist and Smt. Mahashweta Devi, writer and activist. The theatre group also runs a small library for the children of the community. The name of the theatre is given in the memory and honour of the denotified tribe member Budhan who hails from the state of Bengal. Mahashweta Devi fought for the justice for Budhan Sabar. The theatre fights all over India for social justice and inclusion, acceptance and equal human rights for the denotified and nomadic tribes.


Background of the Plays:


Charandas Chor by Habib Tanveer:


The play has a long and interesting process of experimentation and improvisation of about two years before it reached to its final stage of maturity and perfection. Initially Tanveer heard the story in 1973 and it received the final shape in 1975. The story is narrated to him by Vijaydan detha, folklorist from Rajasthan, who recorded it from the oral tradition. Tanveer later tried to use the story in a Khayal workshop in Rajasthan but it did not work well. Later he held a workshop with Nacha groups in Bhilai. At the end of the workshop he asked his performers to improvise it.


The story began to take a form and Tanveer then presented this improvisation act in front of the Satnamis in an open air in the Bhilai maidan. He incorporated a number of panthi songs. This became the first performance of the play. It was for about fifty minutes and he titled it as Chor Chor. After receiving an encouraging response from its first performance Tanveer later began to polish it. He further worked with the artists and improvised it. He added new scenes and modified the ending of the story.


Setting of the Plays:


Charandas Chor by Habib Tanveer:


The setting of the play is simple and initially there was no stage as such. “Its simple, barge stage design was arrived at after a number of experiments, during which several things …were tried out… All that is required is a stage and mounted on that stage a rectangular platform which around 12 feet long, 9 feet high and 6 feet wide. There is just foliage or a leafy branch of a tree behind it. The spaces created by this austere architectural design are used in different ways throughout the production. For the opening scene between the policeman and the thief, only the forestage is used. But in the ‘guru dakshina’ scene, the entire stage comes into use, with guru and some of his followers sitting on the platform and the rest scattered all over the stage. It is the same in the next scene where the landlord and his storage of food grains are on the platform but the peasants, Charandas and finally the Rawat dancers use the forestage.


Stage props are kept to the minimum only objects which are actually used in the action, such as the treasure chest or the idol or the sacks of rice and no elaborate lighting is required. …during the early scenes, the stage is quite flexible and informal. But after the first half of the play, it suddenly takes on a formal and sharply defined quality in order to present the royal treasury, the queen’s court and her bedchamber. The grouping is also significantly more formal in these last scenes”.


Budhan Bolta Hai by Dakxin Bajrange Chharra:


The theatre’s plays of Budhan are created in a democratic manner. All the members of the theatre come together and decide upon an issue after conducting surveys within the communities like Chhara and other denotified (DNT) or marginalized communities. Once the subject or issue is finalised then based on it the members create a plot and decide the roles and now the play is ready for rehearsals. The performers create dialogues according to the role and come up with the script and scenes. The draft of the script is revised and gets edited when the actors rehearse. The performance and effects varies with the change in the space and settings for example when a play is performed in front of a police station it makes the play more tragic and reflects the atrocities of police on the community.


Budhan’s plays are street plays and thus they travel and perform here and there. They also perform at the places like in front of the police station specially in order to make them feel ashamed of their behaviour particularly with the de-notified tribes. At times their plays were interrupted or forcibly stopped in between or banned from performing by the police. The same play when performed in front of the common masses reflects the innocence and conditions of the victimized tribes as non-criminal. So the gravity of the plays changes as per their location of performance. Budhan take great care and do not repeat their plays or avoid monotonous themes or repetitive performances. However, they use less props and sources while performing short plays on the streets.


The Plot of the Plays:


Charandas Chor by Habib Tanveer:


Charandas is a protagonist of the play. He is a thief by profession. Thus all the time he is chased by a policeman. He steals gold plates robs farmers, snatches jewellery, from wealthy merchant’s wife, enters into a temple and steals, robs a queen of her five coins. On the other hand he is also humanitarian. He never lies and he first steals and then returns the things. For example: after stealing sattu from a poor farmer he shouts “Arrey, sattu, only sattu! Oh Sattuwala! Come here! Come on back, don’t be scared. Sit down; let’s share this like brothers” (05). Similarly, he also robs a rich merchant’s wife and then returns the jewelry.


Budhan Bolta Hai by Dakxin Bajrange Chhara:


On 10th February 1998, an adivasi, Budhan Sabar with his wife Shyamli Sabar were going to their mamasasur’s home Baraabazar. On the way they stopped to have paan. Suddenly police appeared and arrested Budhan. Next few days he was beaten inhumanly. He died in the custody. Dakxin and others from the Budhan Theatre have used the story and made it a play which talks against police oppression on the common people.


Some Characters of the Plays:


Charandas Chor by Habib Tanveer:


Charandas: He is the protagonist of the play. He is a thief by profession.


Havaldar: He is the hawaldar who is always after Charandas.


Guru: He is the guru of Charandas.


There are many other characters Charandas have an encounter with they are as follows like Wayfarer, Bejewelled Woman, Drunkard, Drug Addict, Gambler, Landlord, Tetku, Rawat Dance Leader, Pujari, Munim, Sainiks, Diwan, Rani, Dasi, Purohit, Twin Criers, Panthi Dance Leader, Panthi Drummer, Panthi Dancers and so on.


Budhan Bolta Hai by Dakxin Bajrange Chhara:




Budhan Sabar: The protagonist of the play who dies in jail after Police’s oppression.


Shyamoli Sabar: She is the wife of Budhan


There are various other characters like the police inspector and so on in the play.


Major Themes in the Plays:


Critiquing Society:


Charandas Chor is a critical comment on the functioning of the society and law through the characters like the Queen, Munim, the Minister, the Havildar and the Landlord. The economic imbalance is highlighted and in a way a contrast between luxury and want, a need. Affluent are another set of contraries who are self-centric landlords who treasures wealth and on the other hand farmers starve and die due to famine. The state seems to be responsible for this imbalance but it does not pay any attention to it.


Thus, there remains the increasing treasure of the landlords. The queen who is the manager of the state and upholder of the dharma breaks the law. She misuses the power for her own interest. She likes the honesty of Charandas chor and even falls for the man. She is even ready to cross the borders of power. However, the queen gets the Charandas killed in fear that her advances towards the chor may get reveal. Since she is a queen she fears for her honour.


Charandas steals only five coins and the remaining five were stolen by the Munim but the Munim refuses to accept it. However, the truth gets revealed when Guru tells that Charandas is his disciple and has taken a vow not to tell a lie. Thus, he is not lying. Munim gets caught red-handed and loses his job. Similarly, the Havaldar also proposes to share booty as he says Havaldar: “All right, listen, beta. There’s been a in this village. A golden thali has been stolen. Have you done it? If you have, just tell me and I won’t report it. We’ll share the booty”.


All the characters in the play steal but they are respected by the society. On the other hand Charandas who is a chor just takes a vow and remains attached to it. Thus, human characters cannot be revealed through their position or power but through their deeds. Thus, Charandas being a chor is respected and famous even after his death. Others steal for their own benefit whereas Charandas does it for his villagers as like Robinhood. An uncultured trickster turned out to be an honest man and philanthropist, truthful, kind and so on. It is significant to note here that Munim also steals but he goes unpunished whereas Charandas gets punished. The other example of such human cruelty is the landlord who does not like to spare even a kilo of rice to peasant whose children are dying of starvation.

Peasant: Ram, Ram, malik!


Landlord: Ram, Ram. Come, sit closer, sit on my head! Bloody fool! Sit down there on the floor, can’t you? My gaddi’s all ruined!


Peasant: Forgive me, malik, I made a mistake.


Landlord: Mistake? Nonsense! You don’t know your place.


Peasant: I came to see you, malik.


Landlord: what for?


Peasant: My children haven’t eaten for three days, malik. They are half dead of starvation. If you could spare a kilo or so of rice, it would save them, malik…


There are various such examples one can find throughout the play. Tanvir presents a serious subject in an amusing and humorous manner using irony and paradox. The play represents the conflicting, disorderly and paradoxical nature of the society.


Further songs in the play are also significant part of it as they also reflect and comment on the societal conditions. It is important to note in what context songs are written and what they are talking about. The songs foretell an event, sum it up and comment on it. Towards the end of the play, a group of Panthi singers prepare the readers for Charandas impending doom as “Oh, Charandas, don’t try to rob death of his due your name and fame will be taken from you” (40). Further at the end of the play once again the Satnamis come and sing where the Charandas has died. The song hails the character and the vow Charandas took in front of his guru and he followed it. Charandas is dead now but his name is still alive. They sing,

“The truth is divine,

Divine is the truth,

Nothing compares,

So saith our guru,

With the sacred, the

Holy, the power of


Budhan Bolta He:


Hnery Schwarz describes the Budhan Theatre as “strategically interventionists” (113) when they perform in front of police station or bulldozers ready to demolish slams. So, “theatre here is a weapon,” (13). The work focuses on the cultural productions like theatrical plays and documentaries by the Chhara activist actors who continue to fight against discriminations through their act. For them theatre is “radical cultural movement for liberating the ex-criminal tribes from the stigma of their past…to provoke popular social change” (112).




So, in this module we have discussed about Habeeb Tanveer and Dakxin Bajrange Chhara. We came to know about their personal lives. We also learnt about Habeeb and Dakxin’s works and their style of writing. Further, we have discussed the play Charandas Chor and also Budhan Bolta He. We came to know about the backgrounds and settings of the plays. We have also discussed the plots and summaries of the plays. Then we have also discussed the characters of both the plays. After then we have focused on various themes and relevant issues discussed in the plays. Hope these are useful to you. For more on this module, please find the e-text, learn more and self-assessment tabs. Thank you.



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  • D’Souza, Dilip.  “Accused of Being Accursed” Rediff on the NeT: Dilip D’Souza on the death of Budhan. 10 June 199. http://www.rediff.com/news/1999/jun/10dilip.htm
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