A visibly distraught Saadat Ali Hasan Manto is seated on a rickety chair. The lights dim and a conversation commences between Saadat Ali Hasan,a common man,and Manto,the writer the two alter egos of the late renowned Pakistani writer. As dialogue between the two proceeds,Hasan comments,If Saadat Hasan dies and Manto remains alive,then it will be like an empty egg shell.
The scene is from a 75-minute-long,one-act Urdu play,Ek Mulakat Manto Se,by theatre artiste Ashwath Bhatt. After its English adaptation,In Search of Manto,was performed at the Balad Theatre in Amman,Jordan,at the Hakaya Festival on September 15 and 16,the play will soon travel to the UK and France. The idea of the play,says Bhatt,is to clear misconceptions that surround Manto and his works. He wrote the truth,but never got his due during his lifetime, says Bhatt,who has been performing Mantos works on stage for the last 15 years.
An alumnus of the prestigious National School of Drama,Delhi,and a visiting faculty at the Film and Television Institute of India,Pune,Bhatt opened the play in 2002 at the Nehru Centre in London. The play draws from texts from Mantos writings namely,Manto,Main Afsana Kyun Kar Likhta Hoon,Khol Do,Kal Sawere Jo Meri Ankh Khuli and Deewaroon Pe Likhna. Ghazals by Begum Akhtar have been used to create the ambience of the period and to highlight the pathos of Mantos life along with a couplet by Daag Dehlavi. In totality,it reflects the life and times of the writer who was deeply disturbed by the Partition of India,says Bhatt.
The performance also explores the writers psyche,as to why he only chose to write stories about the tragedy of the Partition.