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‘Ek Haan’ play review: ‘a form of superlative theatre’

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Manto’s wit and wisdom was brought forth in an impressive staging at the Qadir Ali Baig Theatre Festival

Aap agar khud hi badsoorat hain toh aaine ka kya kasoor hain,” asks Saadat Hasan Manto in his inimitable style in the opening scenes of Ek Haan. The 90-minute play, performed as a part of the Qadir Ali Baig theatre festival, is set in the Pakistan of 1951 and tries to understand the enigma called Manto through the eyes of a journalist from India, Wazira. With veteran stage actors Sekhar Suman and Suchitra Krishnamoorthi performing their parts of a poet and his admirer with elan, it resulted in a riveting watch.

A writer, playwright and author born in Ludhiana, Manto mainly wrote in Urdu and was influential due to the subject and themes of his many works. The play tries to address many issues which faced him at the time – from the court cases against him to the alleged obscenity as well as his depiction of man/woman relationships in his work – through the questions of Wazira.

Aided by the sublime vocals of Rekha Bhardwaj and Shahid Mallya whose songs are used,as well as the set design which recreates the vintage charm of the era it was set in, the play succeeds in getting the tone and tenor right from the very beginning.

Two short stories by the author are also weaved into the narrative — Toba Tek Singh and Kaali Shalwar — whichs though seem removed from the story, help those unfamiliar with the works of Manto to glimpse the rich oeuvre of his work.

The play succeeds in giving a glimpse of the author’s work, his stint with the film industry and his tendency to depict reality without any filters. It should be credited for showcasing its lead with all the chinks in his armour without placing him on a pedestal. It also slips into humour ever so often, to ensure that a laugh is never too far.

‘Ek Haan’ play review: ‘a form of superlative theatre’

What works for the play is the actors, both leads have a very distinctive presence; Sekhar Suman’s baritone and Krishnamoorthi’s mellifluous vocals as well as the former’s excellent grasp of Urdu make them a treat to watch. Sekhar brings forth Saadat Hasan in Manto as well as the complexity of an intellectual whom the world struggles to understand. Krishnamoorthi is excellent in the different roles she plays (including the twist in the tale at the end) and is the perfect foil to her counterpart’s fire and brimstone.

Even a technical glitch (of a minute) did not break their sway over the audiences, which is remarkable considering we grab our phones at every possible moment. The writing also manages to brings to fore the complexities of the times it was set in, when one country was divided into two and the conflicts which arose because of Partition. The only glitch in an otherwise superlative theatre showing was the use of audio-visual elements which one felt could have been done away with.

Apart from sharing episodes from the life of a celebrated author, the play succeeded in jogging the grey cells of those present. Indeed, when Manto asks, “Gaay Hindu ho gayi hain aur bakri mussalman” (cow is Hindu and goat is Muslim), one only ponders whether he was speaking of Partition or the times we are living in.

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Printable version | Dec 7, 2019 4:53:57 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/theatre/ek-haan-play-review-a-form-of-superlative-theatre-at-2019-qadir-ali-baig-theatre-festival/article30006863.ece

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