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Manto and Gulzar make magic

Hailed as one of the greatest story-tellers of all time, Saadat Hasan Manto (1912-1955) has long been a favourite among theatre playwrights. As director Salim Arif puts it, “There was no one else who wrote about the underdog in such graphic detail.”


A still from the play Arre O Henry

After wanting to stage a play about Manto and his stories for a long time, Arif is now presenting a play titled Manto Mantra, which will premiere at Prithvi Theatre, tomorrow. Also, premiering in Mumbai on Friday is another play by Salim Arif, titled Arre O Henry. It is based on four short stories by American writer O Henry, which have been adapted to the Indian context by Gulzar.

 As a Hindi theatre director, Arif believes that Manto was one of the greatest writers of his time but was also one of the most misunderstood ones. “He wrote about prostitutes and the underprivileged in great detail. He looked at the chaos that prevailed in society. But he was highly misunderstood. Through my play I hope to make clear some of his thoughts and ideas,” says Arif.

Manto Mantra will feature a collage of scenes, stories and writings by Manto. “There will be times when the character of Manto will be on-stage reading some of his works. The play will offer a glimpse into Manto’s life, thoughts and ideas. He has provided us with extraordinary content and since this is his 100th birth anniversary I wanted to bring out this play,” explains Arif.


Manmohan Singh with his Manto tribute tees

O Henry gets an Indian connect “Gulzar saab is a fantastic humour writer; his humour fascinated me and Arre O Henry is a presentation of that on stage,” says Arif. The play includes Gulzar’s version of four short stories written by O Henry. Gulzar had written the stories a while ago and for Arif’s play, he adapted it for the stage.

Nuskha is a story about two men playing cards with one of them playing a much bigger game. Bal Bal Bache is about a barber who has a cure for baldness while Shadi Kara Lo is about two men trying to make quick money.

The final story, Madam, is about a lady with fine taste. “Gulzar saab and I have worked together a lot. He was more than happy to adapt it for stage and we were part of the creation process together,” adds Arif.

Wear a Manto T-shirt
If you are a Saadat Hasan Manto fan and believe in wearing your heart on your sleeve, these T-shirts with the imprint of Manto might interest you. You can buy one with the author’s portrait on it with the line ‘Zindagi Nakabil-A-Bardasht’ or the one with the names of his famous works including Bu and Toba Tek Singh on it. Designed by Manmohan Singh and Harish Nambiar, these t-shirts are tribute to Manto during his centenerary birth celebrations.

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