To commemorate the birth centenary of Saadat Hasan Manto, the National School of Drama’s 16-day-long annual international festival which begins in the Capital on January 5 will stage plays focusing on one of the most articulate and sensitive literary personalities of the subcontinent.

The 15 edition of Bharat Rang Mahotsav will have plays in Urdu, Punjabi and Hindi from Pakistan and India. Two productions, “Kaun Hai Yeh Gustakh” and “Mantorama”, will be from Pakistan, which Manto had made his home after Partition.

The plays would explain how the turbulent period during Partition affected Manto, who used his pen to give readers a glimpse into the horrors of victims. Manto’s detailed account of the atrocities and blood curdling cries of victims caught in the communal frenzy has given readers in India and Pakistan to understand the futility of sectarian violence.

According to NSD Director Anuradha Kapur, Manto was a popular figure not only during his time but is relevant even in the contemporary context. “Many things which he articulately and sensitively pointed out still strikes a chord with theatre lovers in India as well as Pakistan. His depiction of the trauma of Partition is a significant work on that difficult period. Our students have been religiously studying his works and it is quite gratifying that so many plays would be staged at the festival.”

Pointing out that Indian plays have drawn inspiration from folk theatre, NSD Chairperson Amal Allana said oral traditions like music and dance have impacted Indian playwrights.

“Written plays were not our creation. However, playwrights like Vijay Tendulkar and Mohan Rakesh have written scripts which are in the mould of Western classical plays. So, it is important the new generation of playwrights must draw inspiration from our folk traditions. We must move away from the written script. Our actors should not just be a talking machine. This is the reason why we impart training in the body language.”

Like his contemporary Om Puri, who after decades demonstrated his theatrical skills in the Capital recently, film actor Kulbhushan Kharbanda will be returning to the stage with a play, “Atmakatha”.

“Kulbhushan is coming because of his earlier association with the group Padatik. Notwithstanding his love for theatre, Kulbhushan ventured into the film world because plays cannot sustain actors. Now when he is old and is accepting only a few roles, he has decided that it is time he returned to his first love,” says Amal.

NSD has been roping in theatre stalwarts like Naseeruddin Shah for its productions. “If there is a new play and dates of eminent theatre personalities match with ours then we invite them over. Naseer did a play about three years ago. Last year, we had Seema Biswas.”

Like every year, the festival has chosen plays which celebrate our country’s secular and pluralistic traditions. Regional language productions have been given prominence. This year, theatre lovers would get to watch 87 plays from foreign countries including SAARC nations, besides the host country.

The festival will also travel to Jaipur where 11 Indian and nine international plays will be staged.

More In: Delhi | Arts