FOR years, the stage has been the space from where members of Alankar Theatre have voiced their concerns regarding varied social issues. They have, in the past, reached out to wider audiences on the street and public spaces with improvised performances. Literary texts have often been the inspiration of Alankar’s many productions, as the group travels across the country with its new explorations.
In another new endeavour to initiate a new dialogue, the group has created 100 Candle Power Bulb, a short film based on Saddat Hasan Manto’s short story of the same name. Manto’s short stories, set in the painful period of the Partition, are his defining works that tell the story of the marginalised in the society, including that of the sex workers. In 100 Candle Power Bulb, Manto explores the theme of violence against women, the male gaze and society’s indifference to this violence and the values of justice.
Manto is recreated and brought to life in the film as the actors explore the many facets of society with this short film. The story follows the point of view of a young man, who comes back to his old town to catch up with an old friend. He encounters a pimp, who is trying to convince a sex worker to accompany a client. She is angry and protests as she hasn’t slept for days. He forces her to go, and what follows is a play of many emotions, dilemmas and the emergence of internal violence. “Manto was relevant yesterday, today and will be relevant tomorrow too. As soon as it gets dark, we can see Manto in every corner. Political or social, his works are still alive as even after 70 years, not much has changed for the common people,” says Chakresh Kumar, director of Alankar, who has played the role of the pimp in the film, which has been directed by Prashant Mehra.
Kumar says that all the members of Alankar have been exposed to various dimensions of cinema through workshops on cinematography, sound, light and writing, with Kumar also having assisted as a creative director. “The group has made several short films on a variety of issues, travelogues and documentaries, but this is the first film that has been released for the public on You Tube. It was while working with Deepa Mehta as an actor in the Anatomy of Violence that my interest in the medium and its many nuances developed. We worked to bring Manto’s characters alive so that the public could connect with them,” adds Kumar.
For the film, Kumar and the actors visited red light areas in Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata. He rues the fact that sex workers continue to be exploited, with no dignity given to them in either their life or work. “Like the farmers, the government has left them to fend for themselves. They are alienated from the society, with no respect whatsoever. I hope we as a society can talk about these issues for they matter to all of us and not remain divided. There has to be an exchange between men and women on the social and intellectual level. No one is bigger than the human being and that’s what the core of Manto’s writings is,” says Kumar, who hopes to do more projects next year and explore the other stories of Manto, Chekhov and Pash among others.