'Manto is a thought’

Ambika Shaligram
Tuesday, 10 September 2019

Ek Haan, a Hindi-Urdu play that sheds light on Saadat Hasan Manto’s writings, will be staged in the city. Suchitra Krishnamoorthi, who plays the journalist and Randhir Ranjan Roy who has directed the play, tell us more about it

A writer for the nascent Hindi film industry, much before it became Bollywood, Saadat Hasan Manto’s penmanship was sharp and unsparing. It was honest and free of artifice and held a mirror to all that was wrong and ugly in the society he lived in. His short stories and novels still find many readers, theatre groups stage plays on his life and his literary works, a film made on his life won critical acclaim. And yet more and more artists are motivated to explore Manto’s enigmatic personality.

Randhir Ranjan Roy, who is bringing a Hindi-Urdu play Ek Haan to the city on Saturday, says, “Once you read about Manto and his stories, you don’t need any individual motivation to work on bringing the lesser-known facets of his life to the audience. His thoughts and his work are good enough to excite you. I have been working on this subject for three years now and when it was the right time, we came out with Ek Haan.” 

The play has Shekhar Suman as Manto and Suchitra Krishnamoorthi as Wazira, a journalist who goes to Pakistan to meet the writer. Ek Haan also features three stories of Manto — Toba Tek Singh, Kali Salwar and Akal Thad. The main plot has also woven in some portion from one of his stories. Says Roy, “We have tried to weave in the three stories as an entire theatre play. Toba Tek Singh talks about the pain of Partition, Kali Salwar reflects on the loneliness of women and Akal Thad is a conversation between middle aged husband and wife.” 

When asked about the intriguing title, the director says, “The title is derived from the answer expected from Manto. He justifies the stories he has written. Ek Haan is an amalgamation of the stories written by the author and the life he led. The tittle bridges the gap between reality and fiction.” 

Wazira, in the play, is one such character which treads between reality and fiction. Suchitra, who plays the character, says, “Wazira is a person named in one of Manto’s short stories. But not much is known about her as she is not one of his famous characters. A lot of what you see of Wazira on stage is an interpretation.” 

“Wazira travels all the way to Pakistan from Kashmir to not just learn more about Manto and understand his stories better, but also to understand her life and her life choices through him. There is an aspect of her life only he can explain and bring closure to, which you will understand as the play unfolds,” adds the singer-actor.  

When asked what they identify or associate Manto with, Roy says, “Manto used to say, ‘The moment I pick up my pen, I turn into Manto, else I am just Saadat Hassan. For me, Manto is a thought. A thought which is revolutionary, which is eye opening and which is bold enough to state the existing truths. If we believe in this thought, we believe in ‘Manto’.” 

Suchitra adds, “He is undoubtedly the most important writer of the Partition era. To read and understand Manto is to understand the throbbing festering womb through which India was born.” 

If she had a chance to interview Manto, Suchitra would ask him this question — Kya sharaab peena ik writer ke liye itna zaroori hai?. 

ST Reader Service
Ek Haan, the Hindi-Urdu play will be staged on September 14, at Nehru Memorial Hall, Camp, 8 pm

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