Kaun hai yeh Gustakh, Ajoka’s latest play opened on Friday at Alhamra, The Mall.
The play portrays Pakistan through the life and short stories of Saadat Hassan Mant, while also attempts to recreate the author’s life from partition to his demise. The play is directed by Madeeha Gauhar and written by Shahid Nadeem.
“I think we were the first group to bring Manto’s politics to the stage in Pakistan since we share Manto’s vision of partition and the creation of Pakistan and his foresight about the future of Pakistan,” Gauhar said.
Manto’s character is played by Naseem Abbas. The play has a simple set. Scenes from some of Manto’s short stories are enacted during interludes but the essence of the play is autobiographical. It also shows the disappointments Manto faced, including interactions with Faiz Ahmed Faiz amongst other well-known figures.
“This is why it was difficult…it wasn’t one story. The play documents his life, stories, writings and vision. It is quite difficult to bring all of them together,” Gauhar said.
Actor Naseem Abbas, who has been cast in several of Ajoka’s earlier plays, sees the role as a “difficult one.”
“To play Manto in a single segment [of the play] is difficult…to become Manto and depict his various shades makes for a very difficult task,” Abbas said. “One gets the room to maneuver some of the lines in other plays, but since the dialogue in the play were Manto sahib’s own words, there was no room for any error.”
The play shows how Manto is slowly isolated due to his refusal to compromise. The script explores his relationship with his close friend, actor Shyam (played by Kamran Mujahid), his disputes with progressive writers and religious fanatics, and his political views.
One of Manto’s writings depicted in the play shows a dialogue between Saadat Hassan, the soft spoken and easy to get along with family man, and Manto, the outspoken, non-compromising fiction writer.
Writer Shahid Nadeem explains that the play tries to bring little known aspects of Manto and bring them together to present a wholesome view of the author .
One of the lesser known stories that Ajoka brings to the stage is based on Manto’s nephew Hamid Jalal’s account of the writer’s last few days. The doctors had warned Manto that if he drank a single drop of alcohol, it would be fatal due to his liver condition.
“Jalal wrote that Manto had read a story of a pregnant woman who had been gang-raped and left there with her frozen stillborn child,” said Nadeem. “Manto was so disturbed by the story he could not stop himself [from drinking] and died before he could pen the story.” Nadeem has also written a similar screenplay, Mein Manto, that will be appearing on television in the near future.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 16th, 2012.