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Posted at: May 20, 2016, 1:54 AM; last updated: May 20, 2016, 1:54 AM (IST)ART & CULTURE

Harpal Tiwana — torchbearer of modern Punjabi theatre

Taking local theatre to world stage

  • Born into a Jat Sikh family, his father was in the police. However, from a very young age, Tiwana wanted to be an actor and left his home to join a drama group.
  • Initially, he produced the film, “Long Da Lishkara”from the money earned from theatre. He took the Punjabi theatre to the international level in 1970s with a performance.
Harpal Tiwana — torchbearer of modern Punjabi theatre
Frames from noted theatre person Harpal Tiwana’s life. His interest was in Punjabi performing arts, especially theatre.

Gagan K Teja

Tribune News Service

Patiala, May 19

There are very few people in the world who inspire the generations to come. Legendary actor Harpal Tiwana is one of them. On his death anniversary today, the Harpal Tiwana Foundation paid tributes to the legendary actor.

Born into a Jat Sikh family, his father was in the police. However, from a very young age, Tiwana wanted to be an actor and left his home to join a drama group. He was thereafter sent to Gurukal Kangri so that some “discipline” could be instilled in him but his passion for the acting continued.

In college, his bhangra skills won him many admirers and the Government Mohindra College team became champion in national inter-university competitions many a times. The then Prime Minister of India Pandit Nehru used to invite his team for performance at important national events.

His wife Neena Tiwana, who he met in the same college, inspired him to join the National School of Drama (NSD) in 1961. The NSD was in its inaugural years then. He became the first Punjabi ever to join the institute and graduated in 1963 under great guru Ebrahim Elkazi. His wife Neena followed suit and graduated from the NSD in 1965, becoming the first Punjabi woman to do so.

Harpal Tiwana went on to become a talented dancer, actor, director and playwright. He could have easily joined the Bollywood bandwagon with his wife but he chose otherwise. His interest was in Punjabi performing arts, especially theatre.

Coming back to Punjab, they joined Punjabi University, Patiala, but felt scuttled and started a movement for modernising the Punjabi theatre. Starting with a small group of devoted students, they used to perform at the Central Library, Patiala.

Sometimes, the duo used to sell tickets for their shows on bicycle. After some time, they moved Ludhiana. Here the professional theatre became a reality. Many landmark performances were given by them for almost two decades from late 1960s to mid 1980s. Stalwarts like Om Puri, Raj Babbar, Nirmal Rishi, Gurdass Mann and many more learnt from this nursery of art.

Initially, he produced the film, “Long Da Lishkara”, a landmark in the Punjabi cinema, from the money earned from theatre. He took the Punjabi theatre to the international level in 1970s with a Punjabi theatrical performance at Vancouver and that tradition continues even today.

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