Alluding to Manto's reaction after reading one of Ismat Chughtai's stories, Naseeruddin Shah brings to stage Kambakhat Bilkul Aurat, a play of three stories by the famous Urdu writer
The genius of Urdu's boldest and most outspoken writer Ismat Chughtai will be brought alive on stage today by one of the country's most well-known stage hands, Naseeruddin Shah. Titled Kambakhat Bilkul Aurat, a reference to what the famous Pakistani journalist and writer Saadat Hassan Manto is supposed to have said in disappointment, after reading the last line of Chugtai's popular story Lihaf, the play is a set of three stories.
About Manto's reaction to Chugtai, Shah says, "Later, however, he (Manto) admitted that Ismat aapa's stories had so much compassion only because she was a woman."
All three stories are set in pre-Independence Uttar Pradesh (UP). Amar Bel tells the story of poor families who marry their daughters into well-to-do families even if the husbands are "toothless old goats". Nanhi Ki Naani is the character study of an old beggar woman who survives on scraps thrown at her. Do Haath talks about the plight of the working class, using the story of jamadarnis in Indian villages.
Shah who knew Chughtai personally, says, "Chughtai liked poking fun at the institution of marriage. This story (Amar Bel) is a satire on just that, the institution of marriage." In Do Haath, one jamadarni bears an illegitimate child while her husband is out at work. But the husband accepts the child because it can contribute to the family income.
According to Shah, he once had great contempt for Indian literature, having confined most of his reading to works in the English language. He, however, discovered its richness, and works of authors like Manto and Premchand through her.
"Ismat aapa and I acted together in the film Junoon. I did not know she was an acclaimed writer," Shah reminisces. Later, he started reading her works, and couldn't stop, having read in all, at least 50 stories by her. "She has written some of the best stories, not just in India but also internationally. The characters in her stories were people I could identify with," he concludes. With music composed by Vishal Bharadwaj and songs sung by his wife Rekha, the play will be minimal, every part having just one actor performing it.
At: 6 & 9 pm, Prithvi Theatre, Juhu Church Road, Juhu