Saadat Hasan Manto’s short story Toba Tek Singh may have been adapted for stage several times before, but Nagpur-based youth theatre group Rashtrabhasha Parivar promise they have something fresh up their sleeve for Mumbai’s theatre lovers.
“Everyone who watched our version has said that it has a strong identity of its own,” says director Rupesh Pawar, “dada” to the young crew, who decided to adapt this story after long sessions of group discussions.
For those unfamiliar with the plot, Toba Tek Singh is a play set in post-partition India. Bishan Singh is one of the Sikh inmates living in a Lahore asylum being transferred to India. When he is told that he must move, all he wants to do is return to his hometown Toba Tek, which is now part of Pakistan.
“When I read the story two years ago, the state of the country wasn’t great and it seemed appropriate to stage it. Besides, I feel that people can relate to the story on a more personal level too. For instance, brothers often fight and decide to go their separate ways,” says Pawar, adding that Manto’s story is a classic that every theatre group must perform.
Pawar’s biggest challenge, he reveals, is working within a limited budget. “Since we cannot afford large props and ostentatious sets, we have to think of creative ways in which to portray Bishan Singh’s journey, which is incredibly expansive,” he explains.
After months of mulling over their options, the group decided that six wooden chairs were all they needed. “Those six chairs represent everything — the India-Pakistan border, Toba Tek, as well as a mental asylum.”
The group, with Nasir Sheikh playing the lead role, has staged the play in Raipur, Durbhilai and Amravati and are extremely excited about performing at the NCPA. Their first performance in Mumbai was at Dr DY Patil College, where they won awards for performance, direction and lighting, making them illegible to be part of NCPA’s Zest! — a platform for campus and youth theatre.