History has seen time when writer’s plain words have become more annoying to religious fanatics than the actual misdeeds done in the name of religious beliefs and orthodox way of living.
Saadat Hasan Manto is akin to Sant Kabir of Urdu literary world. Both had serious business to hurt religious sentiments and to provoke masses for self-introspection. Kabir succeeded in his mission to enlighten masses from false religious chauvinism, blind-faiths, but Manto said it was not his job to wash filth of the society.
Dafa – 292 starts with questions like ‘does words are more dangerous than the riots and violence?’ Manto is shown in three stages of his life. Manto mocks ‘mualavis’ who issues fatwas and yet they call him ‘tarakki-pasand’ or progressive writer.
There is younger Manto who is uncompromising to social ethics and wants to write the hard realities of society. He introspects himself that why he tends to write and for whom, what should be his subject matter? Does a housewife will ever become his subject matter? He says no, never; a housewife is god-fearing, she will never become the heroine of my story who grinds cereals in atta-chakki and sleeps well in the night, instead he will write about nautch girls and prostitutes who awake whole night. Young Manto ridicules himself that when his mind is empty; his pockets are filled by stories!
The script is inspired by Manto’s stories, such as ‘Kali Salwar’, ‘Thanda Gosht’, ‘Teen Khamosh Auratein ‘, ‘Siyah Hashiye’, ‘Sabz Sandal’, ‘Beware’, ‘Akkal Dadh’, and ‘Pase Manzar’. There are some mesmerizing moments of Mantoism when the rioters pushed out the house owner. He got up after dusting his clothes and said to the rioters, ‘You can kill me but beware of touching my money’ from the story ‘Beware’. And two Muslims praying to Allah that ‘Oh God please take this Manto to your heavenly abode or make him pious man like us’. And then one voice says ‘Allah please forgive the sins of Manto’. And common men discussing why Manto writes about the filth of society, nautch girls, prostitutes; there are other beautiful things in this world to write about. And what will happen if Pakistan government colonize all prostitutes and writers on the bank of Ravi river, the reply comes that Manto will still write about prostitutes.
This play is brainchild of Anoop Trevedi, he is script writer, music director, set designer and ultimately director of this play. He is well known name in the theatre circuit of Delhi with outstanding performances in plays like ‘Comrade Kumbhakaran’, ‘Ram Naam Satya Hai’, ‘Uttar Ramcharit’, ‘Beghum ka Takia’, etc. He is young actor, director with many feathers in cap, you can see him in tv commercial of ‘Birla Cement Wall Care Putty TVC -Dandruff wala tota’ at 00.17 second and promo of ‘Kaun Banega Crorepati – 6′ and the much acclaimed film Peepli Live.
‘Birla Cement Wall Care Putty TVC -Dandruff wala tota’
Like a true admirer of Manto, I too have my own reservations and strong opinions and want to convey my message to my dear friend Anoop Trevedi that Manto was very unique in story telling through 5-6 lines which became best known short stories and left readers with surprising ends and aftertaste in mouth. And yes, Manto was not tried for that kind of obscenity which half of your play depicts as a laughing riot on railway platform based on ‘Teen Khamosh Auratein’ or endless arguments between Manto and his wife having obscure love with an ever nagging wife, which Manto has written in ‘Akkal Dadh’ and ‘Sabz Sandal’. Instead Manto was tried for the writing about real riots on streets which were orchestrated by religious fanatics. I know that late Habib Tanvir improvised his plays for better performances having different ends. It will be delightful to watch a play which justifies the title ‘Dafa – 292’ by exploring a single story – Why Manto was sued for obscenity and blasphemy in Pakistan rather than watching multi-layered stories which gives glimpses of Manto’s life and short stories.
Light is amusing, music is again amusing but what it lacks is the black comedy of Manto which ignited the ire of Mullahs of Pakistan which later resulted in legal battles. I will give four out of five stars to this play for entertaining and one star is deducted for not enlightening the audiences about ‘Dafa – 292’ or what are the grounds of obscenity to attract this section. Without including fatwa-dictating Mullahs and cunning politicians who were arch enemy to Manto, the title will never be justified.
Though depicting rape of a girl by two men of her own community and later repentance and laughing of the victim girl on these men’s follies to rape a girl of their own community during riots, or murder of a man after pulling his pajama by ascertaining his religion by watching his circumcised phallus is not enough to generate the query – why Manto was entangled in legal cobweb of obscenity. Rapes, mob-killings, violence is shown by numerous big name of Punjabi, Urdu, Hindi and English literature, but none of these evoked such feelings of hatred to the hatred itself. Manto was one step ahead of his contemporary writers who have written about the tragedy of partition and blind-bloodbath.
No doubt, play is very beautiful and well crafted, having excellent lighting by Sauti Chakraborty, especially when Manto and his wife have a relay communication with young Manto and older Manto. That scene is really worth of grand applause. But at the end play reminds that it was titled ‘Dafa – 292’ or Section 292 of the Penal Code for which Manto was tried thrice in undivided India and thrice after partition in Pakistan.
The title suggests some bold and provocative theme for which Manto was both famous and notorious but in reality it was an extravaganza of collage of different short stories. All the best to the team of NSD’s repertory company for future plays on Manto. Let Manto lives ever in his plays. He said, “… and it is also possible, that Saadat Hasan dies, but Manto remains alive.”
© Sushil Kumar