The Forgotten man in MANTO:


ASHWATH BHATT during his performance.

Like one of his greatest literary creations Toba Tek Singh, Saadat Hasan Manto too was lost in the abyss created between India and Pakistan. Yet, over the years his admirers have only grown in number while his relevance remains unparalleled. Joining in celebrations marking his 100th birth anniversary, KHOJ Studios staged “Ek Mulaqat Manto Se” a biography play performed solely by Ashwath Bhatt.

Stringing together many of Manto’s key texts like Manto, Main Afsana Kyu Kar Likhta Hoon, the short story Khol Do, Kal Sawere Jo Meri Aankh Khuli and Deewaron Pe Likhna, Bhatt has woven a unique monologue that brings both the writer and the man in Manto alive. “The material is derived from articles and it was a challenge to figure out how to perform articles. I’ve connected all the texts and tried to make something interesting out of it,” says Bhatt.

Interseting would be an understatement to describe the play;s singular method of rendition. The play begins with Saadat Hasan, the man talking about Manto the writer- the peculiar division was to highlight the creative prowess of the individual. “it was to show how Manto was the outer element while Saadat Hasan was the driving intellect”.

His Kal Sawere Jo Meri Ankh Khuli is a fantastic account of the social scenario in Pakistan right after partition. When everyone was talking about Nehru and Mountbatten, he was talking about ordinary people struggling to make a living,”

First performed at the Nehru Centre(London) in 2002, the play has been critically acclaimed and has structurally and thematically evolved since then. Manto’s incisive critical intellect and his ability to minutely chronicle his times come alive during the length of the play.  “His Kal Sawere Jo Meri Ankh Khuli is a fantastic account of the social scenario in Pakistan right after partition,” says Bhatt.

Manto’s numerous obscenity battles also from a crucial crux of the play. “Publishers come out with collections like Manto Ke Badnaam Afsaane. Such people need to be tried in a court of law. Throughout his life Manto had fought the obscenity label. Now, How can they malign a person who is not even alive to defend himself?” asks Bhatt.

The actor has also visited Lakshmi Mansions in Pakistan where Manto lived and his eldest daughter(Nighat) now resides. “She tells me stories of people coming in looking for Hazrat Manto, of youngsters visiting to merely touch the doors and windows. Such is the powerful legacy of this genius. The family feels cheated. People minted money in Manto’s name while the family got nothing,” he avers.


Glimpses of the play.