Monday, June 29, 2009

Play: Ek Mulaqat Manto Se

I saw the act play at the India Habitat Centre in Delhi yesterday.

It was a semi-autobiographical play on the famous author Saadat Hasan Manto.
Combining psychoanalysis with human behaviour, he was arguably one of the best short story tellers of the 20th century, and one of the most controversial as well. When it comes to chronicling the collective madness that prevailed in the Indian subcontinent, during and post the Partition of India in 1947, no other writer comes close to the oeuvre of Saadat Hassan Manto.

The play had Manto sitting around and telling brief portions of his life history to the audience. Then in the middle he brings up the charge of obscenity leveled on him for one of his stories, “Khol Do”. This leads him to read out the story to the audience – it was arguably the most moving part of the performance. It is always difficult to read out a story – acting out parts of the narrator and different protagonists. But Ashwath Bhatt, the writer, director, and actor of the play did it superbly.

Then in the latter half of the play, Manto’s character describes one of his morning walks around the by lanes of Lahore. Again, setting up the scenes by way of interaction with the people he met and the things he saw was done very nicely. Manto had a scathing sense of humor. Upon seeing some dogs he remarks that the government should find out which of these dogs were pets before. Thus both the governments of the two countries can then also “allot” these dogs to their new owners, as they have done to houses, businesses, etc. Clearly partition (and its madness) was the underlying theme of his works.

The play was an hour long and the script was in Hindustani with a lot of classical (i.e. what we don’t use in common parlance in India) Urdu words that may have made some of the lines difficult to understand. This in its own subtle way reflects the gradual demise of the language in India (which is a whole other topic).

If someone gets a chance to catch the play then definitely do so. It is incumbent upon us to be aware of the past and in Manto we get to see it in all its honesty and ugliness.

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