Theatre - Fest

'Manto… Ismat Haazir Hain' preview: A toast to two literary mavericks

In their words(Left) A still fromManto... Ismat Haazir Hain;(below) Naseeruddin Shahspecial arrangement  

Saadat Hasan Manto’s Bu (Odour) explores the relationship between a sex worker and a wealthy young man, who has a fetish for the smell of the former’s armpits. Lihaaf (The Quilt) by Ismat Chughtai has suggestive references to lesbianism and child abuse. The subjects that the two late writers have explored might be considered radical even today.

So, it’s not too surprising that when they were published, in pre-Independence India, the then British Government charged them for obscenity. But Manto and Chughtai didn’t submit. “I am not a pornographer but a story writer,” said the former in his defence and the latter refused to apologise when she was asked to.

'Manto… Ismat Haazir Hain' preview: A toast to two literary mavericks
 

Motley theatre group’s Manto… Ismat Haazir Hain, which will be staged in the city, at The Hindu Theatre Fest 2019, is a celebration of these two writers. Its director, Naseeruddin Shah, discusses the writers and more. Excerpts:

More than one story will be performed on stage. Can you explain the structure of the performance?

Bringing Indian stories onto the stage began with wanting to celebrate our great writers by reading out their works — that was the initial intention, but later we felt there’s no harm in using theatrical techniques to enhance the storytelling. The stories are not converted into plays but are told in the writer’s exact words. The storyteller is dressed in a way that evokes the period and class the story is set in, so we hope to transmit the feeling to the audience of not only having heard but also read and seen the stories.

Saadat Hasan Manto’s works are considered ahead of his times. What about his writings, according to you, make them modern?

 

His unsparing world view, his prescience, his compassion, his unsentimental nature and his mordant sense of humour. Any great writing transcends the time it was written in and Manto surely qualifies in that category.

His personality is as compelling as his body of literature. Your thoughts?

 

His seemed to be a troubled personality — probably the result of his sensitivity to the horrors he saw around him during Partition. It’s difficult to understand such a person — that’s why I feel making films about him is futile, it’s well nigh impossible to capture a mental affliction on film, and their writing doesn’t measure up to anywhere near what Manto wrote, so they end up filming his stories instead.

Lihaaf(The Quilt) by Ismat Chughtai andBu(Odour) by Manto were among the most controversial pieces of Indian literature. Why did you choose these stories in particular?

 

I thought that their court trials would unite these stories ( Bu and Lihaaf ) which I love and wanted to stage anyway.

Ismat and Manto had to undergo court trials for their stories because they were deemed obscene. Do you think a writer today has the freedom to explore any subject?

 

It does seem that even respected citizens who write to the Prime Minister about their genuine concerns are not free to write what they believe in without being accused of sedition. Let’s see how long before this stricture begins to apply to writers of fiction as well.

What were the challenges involved in translating their literature onto the stage?

 

The magic of great writing is often in the descriptive passages, so we were careful not to try and enact those — our chief concern was to get the stories across without obstructing the text, using only the writer’s words. For the actors, it’s a challenge to be alone on stage for half an hour or more and hold the audience’s attention.

The crew includes Vishal and Rekha Bharadwaj. Can you talk about how music will be used in the play?

 

Vishal’s music and Rekha’s voice have enhanced the production and how the music has been used, I would rather let you watch onstage!


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    Printable version | Oct 11, 2021 1:50:23 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/theatre-fest/a-toast-to-two-literary-mavericks/article28843887.ece

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