WKND Special: Dubai celebrates and stages Manto's works
The city never gets tired of celebrating the writer’s works, be it through staging plays, storytelling sessions, dramatised readings and more
I believe that it's the stories that find us and not the other way around. Last month, to my surprise and honour, the stories of author Saadat Hasan Manto found me. This wasn't the first time his deep, riveting, goosebumps-inducing tales reached me; however, this time, I felt a tad prepared to receive them the way they're probably meant to be: with hunger.
The Bitter Fruit: The Very Best of Saadat Hasan Manto (edited and translated by Khalid Hasan) and I spent many late nights together. Anyone familiar with Manto's unrestrained writings would tell you that his words leave one whelmed and exhausted with realisations of the world we inhabit. It had the same effect on me and, at the same time, it led to me to the awareness of how Manto has always been the talk of the town. As I read his book in English, many others were devouring the translations in Gujarati and Hindi as well. The city, it seems, never gets tired of celebrating his works, be it through storytelling sessions, dramatised readings, staging his plays, or indulging in animated discussions on his works.
In 2019's season of Short + Sweet Theatre (S+S) UAE festival, Toba Tek Singh, set in the India-Pakistan partition era, was adapted and directed by Huda Bhaldar. Actor and director Rahul Kumar, who played three different roles in the play, says, "Reading his works is, in itself, a rewarding experience and it was a blessing to bring it to the stage. I switched from one character to another (lunatic in an asylum, a representation of Khuda or God, and an old advisor), hence various emotions, in a very short time."
Manto's Khol Do, the story of a widowed father seeking his missing daughter, was also adapted for the stage in Hindi by actor, director and writer Prakash Soni in the first season of S+ S UAE. "It's always challenging and takes a lot of courage to do justice to his works when bringing it to the stage," shares Prakash, who is part of Theatrewallas, a local theatre group. "A lot of his literature has not reached the people; it's in the hand of only those who are researching on him, so it's good to see his works in Dubai."
In May 2020, Theatrewallas hosted e-Rang Chaupal, a dramatic reading of Manto's works to celebrate his birth anniversary. "Globally, especially in India, there are strong opinions on his work. Sadly, in Urdu literature, a lobby believes his work to be vulgar and doesn't even consider it as part of Urdu literature," he laments.
Muhammad Aftab Khan, a poet who writes in Urdu, agrees. "Manto witnessed not just a World War, but the largest and deadliest migration and, undoubtedly, the most difficult times to maintain humanity. He lived through political drama, nepotism of all kind, our rise and fall, but most importantly, he witnessed the lust within all of us. He recognised the culprit and magnified it. We were not ready to see ourselves in the suspect box, so we placed him there instead." Aftab read Manto for the first time when he was in Grade 8 and feels his works are a true reflection of his emotions and circumstances.
Come next weekend, you can watch 'Ek Shaam Manto Ke Naam', an evening of three of his works: Beemar, Khudkushi and Aao Akhbaar Padhein. Prashant Dwivedi, director of the third, shares, "Mum's a writer and a follower of the Yatharthvad genre i.e. actuality; hence, my introduction to Manto came early via her." Prashant chose this story - about countries at war to crush one another's power - for its current relevance. The story, set in the 1940s, is about a family fighting over banal issues, where the wife is concerned about the consequences of her husband getting angry enough to hit her, and a neighbour suggests that he too could be a victim of the anger and hence should possess a tool to combat the violence. "In 2020, it highlights how, soon, all of us would own a poisonous gas or a gun, or a country would become an atomic power, to merely protect ourselves."
Prashant, who is a trained theatre artist from National School of Drama in Delhi, has changed a few dialogues for ease of understanding and will be relying on minimalistic movement on stage to narrate the tale. "Manto's writing forces you to self-introspect as he opens the window to the world. The question raised in this tale is: if we are certain that we will not harm one another, then would we still need tools to protect ourselves?"
All the plays, including this one, are brought by Udaan Dubai, to be staged from September 17-19 at 7.30pm at The Junction, Alserkal Avenue. Tickets are available at ae.bookmyshow.com.