The relevance of Manto

The lasting significance A scene from the play Photo: V. Karthikeyan   | Photo Credit: V_Karthikeyan

Would we ever stop to hear the story of a security guard? Do we even care to understand what it is like to be discriminated against? Perhaps not, busy as we are with our lives. But such stories must be told, for there is a little bit of us in each of them. The north-east exodus, for one, points to the uncertainty migration from city to city brings with it. The security guard, a man traumatised by war, two women engaged in a war of words over cultural superiority and a poor woman who sells flowers feel a similar sense of isolation every day.

Such stories of those we see and yet we don’t have been told compellingly by the master storyteller Saadat Hasan Manto in his works Khabardar (Beware!), Karamat (The wonder), Bekhabri Ka Fayda (Price of innocence) and Ghate Ka sauda (A bad deal). A dramatised version, titled Aadab Manto Saheb, of these stories and a solo performance of Toba Tek Singh was presented by Kamal Pruthi Arora and his troupe last week to a group of Manto lovers.

The performers and audience were not divided by a stage or an exclusive space. They journeyed along with the actors and director from the basement to the library of the beautiful Atta Galatta. This is the format of the Museum style theatre, of which Kamal is a pioneer. It is a democratic form of theatre that bridges the gap between the performer and the audience. Gathered around the actors, the audience listened carefully to and empathised with each of the individual accounts of loss and pain. Kamal has conducted Museum Theatre in different places, from underground construction sites to buildings. He acts as a guide and says that “he is like a curator who leads the audience to paintings that begin to speak and tell a story.”

Khabardar, Karamat and Ghate Ka Sauda were performed in Hindi, Tamil and Kashmiri, but Amjad Parwez’s rendition of Bekhabri Ka Fayda stirred the audience. His dialogue delivery was powerful, but the dramatic pauses and his emotive skills were far more eloquent.

In Nimbu Pani vs Soda two teachers, performed by Suresh Kumar and Indira, showed the cultural differences that often divide Indians on a psychological level. It showed the conflict between the North and the South, but, as Kamal pointed out, Manto wrote the play to portray the conflict between Hindi and Urdu. This story is remarkable for its relevance; it depicted the double-speak the middle-class often indulges in the privacy of their homes.

Toba Tek Singh, set in a lunatic asylum,was performed by Kamal Pruthi Arora. Manto vociferously criticised the Partition in his works and columns. Toba Tek Singh, perhaps, is one of his best known works that provides a unique insight into the madness of the event. In the play, the inmates of the mental hospital in Toba Tek Singh cannot fathom the difference between Hindustan and Pakistan. Bishen Singh, the protagonist, refuses to go to Hindustan and stands in one place called No Man’s Land all night. Unable to stand for long, Bishen Singh emits a cry and dies.

Kamal, who has been pursuing theatre since 2005, moved in and out of characters with ease, never once comprising on dialogue delivery. His performance enthralled the audience to get them even more interested in Manto’s works.

The performance was followed by an interaction between the audience and the performers. Some found parallels between Manto’s works and other famous regional writers while others marvelled at the Museum theatre style.

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Printable version | May 7, 2021 8:26:22 AM |

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