Panache Media has announced a new theatrical production titled Ek Haan starring seasoned actor and TV host Shekhar Suman and singer, actor, author Suchitra Krishnamoorti in the lead. The play is based on the story of the notorious life and times of the most influential writers of his time, Saadat Hasan Manto, showcasing the socio-political and emotional turmoil of the pre and post-independence era. RASA AUR DRAMA TIMES speaks to the writer in this interaction on writing the script for the MANTO play!
Q1.) Manto stories are so well known! Why should the audience listen and watch and watch MANTO stories again?
NEERAJ MURTHY: Manto is a quick-witted, sensible, confronting person who saw the truth of his time, and the spirit of it always stood to color his stories, which are real strokes of humanity. The colors of humanity imbues
is not found in nay other storyteller! Manto is not just a story writer. Yes, he is world-famous. People know the stories of Manto. Kamleshwar a famous journalist has mentioned,
“मंटो हमारे दौर के बहुत बड़े लेखक थे और मै समझता हूँ ऐसे लेखक कभी-कभी ही पैदा होते हैं.”
No matter how many times you have read a Manto story, an audio-visual live performance where Manto is present in flesh and bone is an out of the world experience. No short story writer ever could have written a play as powerful and important as Toba Tek Singh. Manto is relevant today, he should be revisited, re-experienced understood with the context of this age again and again.
Q2.) It seems that you have not adapted one single story of Manto, but many and with your own understanding. Could you tell something on it! Which stories and maybe why!
NM: The play has four unique short stories written by Manto. First being Toba Tek Singh, this story is the best short story ever written. Without any filters it portrays the confusion people had during the time of partition with context to a mental asylum. The story slowly paints a contrast setting asking the question who is the real mad person. Are the people in the mental asylum mad or people who are responsible for all the blood-shed and chaos just to create boundaries and wars.
Second Story is Kaali Salwar. This story is very powerful in the way it progresses with Khudabaksh, Mukhtar, Sultana ,and Shankar. The women who earn money by giving physical pleasure are also the part of the society and how a wish for a Kalli Salwar for Muharram troubles Sultana. The salwar she wants to wear for Muhram. According to me here Manto has kept Sultana equal to any person who works hard in any craft, industry or profession anywhere. This story at its souls is human. Manto was human and he had the courage to be one. In the THIRD there is a glimpse of Thanda Ghosht, the story that made many courts, writers, thinkers, readers angry and furious. This was banned for a long time. This story was charged with obscenity. This glimpse in the play explains why a real story like Thanda Ghosht is a literature marvel, not something to be put behind bars. The FOURTH story that many few know and recognize when they see the performance is Akal Dadh as it very sweetly merged with the main narrative very skilfully by Neha. Now this story is not read that widely. But, this story is a comedy. The experience one has when they see this story on stage is hilarious.
Q3.) How long did it take to adapt the script?
NM: It took us more than 4 months to write the first draft and then the process of writing you know never finishes it keeps evolving so to give an accurate time is non-tangible. Our hearts were invested in the work for a whole year with all the small iterations that came.
Q4.) What are somethings writers could keep in mind during adapting/translating a work of literature? As the writer, Jerry Pinto once put it " Translation is like taking a ship loaded with salt across the sea, which is constantly eroding! Take as much as you can ." Any thoughts?
NM: Yes, I agree with what Jerry Pinto says here. But we kept the ship afloat. When adapting a short story that is a piece of literature into a play there are a few things writers should strictly adhere to. Each language has a culture and the culture of that language, the aesthetics of it should be preserved. Very little assumptions should be made of any kind: textual, character-wise or the way the story is structured to deliver the correct ‘Stahi Bhava’ according to Bharat Muni in a performance. If in a sad story you make your audience laugh there is something that you assumed that changed the ‘Rasas’ the audience will experience. Another important thing is the context, the references, the subtexts and the history of the development of the story should be considered when someone adapts, one detail if goes wrong the ship sinks.
Q5.) So, Did one of you write the script separately and then put it together. Or together you sat and completed the script in one year!
NM: I had started the adaption first of the play the way Randhir sir wanted to. He had a vision regarding Manto and the part of his life he wants to show. I was able to provide a rough structure that had to be finished, edited, re-looked, experimented, explored. The dialogues had to be written, the stories had to be weaved to keep Manto alive and generate a narrative that is with the vision of the director. This is where Neha came in and with her superb ability to make peace with almost all complexities that Manto and her understanding of Urdu, Hindi and the contexts of Manto. She researched and completed the whole script separately. My part mostly is in the adaptation of the stories that Neha later perfected for a stage play.
Q6.) Can both of you speak about your writing experience in more detail for Rasa Aur Drama Times readers?
NM: I read three books on the way including his memoir and I don’t know; it’s hard to keep a count of the number of articles and videos I had gone through. I read many of his short stories. Each one telling me more who Manto was, who he wanted to be and what he bravely stood for. Truth. Writing Manto starts with accepting Manto. It starts with wearing his glasses and try to see the glimpse of the world he very bravely saw and wrote about. There were many drafts, many improvements. There are a lot of drafts too that no one ever read, because I was not sure I had done justice. It’s a battle to write and preserve a soul in the dead white pages using black ink. It was a great experience.
Q7.) What are the sources that you generally use while researching a literary script?
NM:It depends on the script. There can a variety of primary and secondary sources. Primary including any work published by the writers, books/articles/anecdotes written on them using the first-hand experience. Secondary resources include different video recordings, critiques, analysis to understand the context of the story. But, of all these, the most important is the text itself.
Q8.) Any tips on scriptwriting?
NM: I am not sure. I am still learning. But one tip, for which I don’t take credit, Stephen King says, ” To write is human, to edit is to divine.” So write without any fear and edit without any mercy.
Q9.) What creative freedom remains for the actors after a script is closed and frozen. As writers does it interest you?
NM:The actor is a master of action. The actor has good amount creative freedom to do what he/she is an expert at, but they are bound by subtle silk threads of: context, subtext, body language, voice, diction, movement, blocking, packaging, environment and many other factors which they should always keep in mind.
Q10.) What is writing to you in two lines! Rasa Aur Drama Times would love to hear that!
NM: Writing to me is creation. Of all things I believe in, I believe in 'creation' the strongest.
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