Writer Saadat Hasan Manto’s wit, dark humour and tragic endings came alive in Amritsar-based theatre director Kewal Dhaliwal’s Ik See Manto on Friday. Held at LTG Auditorium as part of the Bharat Rang Mahotsav, the play introduced the audience to the man behind Manto in his centenary year, weaving strands from his personal life and teamed them up with his stories — recreating the chaos and the massacre of the Partition.
Born in Samrala in Ludhiana, Manto grew up in Amritsar and later moved to Mumbai to write scripts. In the play, Manto is the narrator, who takes the audience through his life’s trials and tribulations. The narration takes place through conversations between Manto and his three daughters, who question him about the allegations against him for writing controversial and “dirty stories” such as Thanda Gosht, Kali Shalwar and Bu. The play showcases the court where Manto was produced and dramatises the trials . Though he was never convicted for any of his “obscene” stories, his writings raised much furore among the conservatives of his time.
The piece, though with a great concept, became weak in presentation owing to the performance of main characters. Even so, side characters such as that of a kochwaan in Mangu Kochwaan and a mad man in Toba Tek Singh were brilliantly portrayed by actor Gurtej Mann. In one section, there is a special mention of Tamasha, a story by Manto based on the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. The entire piece was preachy in parts but did manage to create an impact towards the end when Manto dies and members of the cast announce “Manto sadi ragan vich vasda hai, sadde naal ronda hai, hasda hai (Manto is in our veins, he cries and laughs with us)”.