The Bombay Theatre Group is poised to present the play — Jaam-E-Shahadat, a story penned by Manto

The drama, laced with dark satire, promises entertainment while prompting contemplation on human values and morals.
A scene from the play
A scene from the play

Saadat Hasan Manto, a literary pioneer ahead of his time, fearlessly held up a mirror to society through his progressive works. Showcasing the profound resonance of his contribution, The Bombay Theatre Group is set to grace Hyderabad to present the drama — Jaam-E-Shahadat, a theatrical adaptation that brings to life Manto’s popular story — Shaheed Saaz. The drama, laced with dark satire, promises entertainment while prompting contemplation on human values and morals.

Set in the post-partition era, the play showcases a corrupt businessman from Gujarat, who migrates to Pakistan with aspirations of striking it rich. Within a year in Pakistan, he amasses significant wealth and, decides to engage in charitable work. The narrative unfolds as he ingeniously seeks ways to embark on acts of charity, adding a delightful touch of humour and satire to the storyline.

Renowned theatre practitioner and director of the play, Narendra Sachar, along with theatre activist Sanjeev Mehta, takes centre stage, in an intriguing presentation. Narendra’s experimental touch adds an interesting dimension to the play, where he mentions, “Despite the story being written in the first person, I’ve cast Sanjeev as the writer (Manto), and I’ll be portraying the role of the businessman. The dialogue and analysis of the story between these two characters, Manto and the man, are particularly captivating and worth watching. In certain instances, during the play, viewers will get to see Manto’s character interrogating the writer himself.”

Narendra reveals that they have performed Jaam-E-Shahadat in about 18 shows across various cities all over the country. Initially, when they started performing the play, several months ago, the absence of Manto’s character was notable. Later, after thoughtful consideration, the director decided to introduce Manto into the narrative, leading to a significant addition — a conversation between the writer and the businessman. Narendra says, “This is what makes theatre special. It’s an art form where, at any point, we can improvise and introduce new elements. In this process, we have evolved and made changes to suit the demands of the story.” He acknowledges that Manto’s works resonate with contemporary issues, and it’s fascinating how the themes, ideas, and portrayals still remain relevant and relatable.

When asked what kind of emotions he intends to evoke among the viewers, Narendra shares, “As a director, I have tried using the Alienation Effect, a central idea in the dramatic theory of German dramatist-director Bertolt Brecht. It consists of techniques that distance the audience from emotional engagement.” He explains that when emotions are intense, the brain tends to stop functioning. To leave the audience pondering or convey a message effectively, it’s crucial to bring them back to reality. Hence, whenever the narrative becomes emotionally charged, humourous dialogues are introduced to break the intensity. This technique prompts viewers to reflect on the underlying serious issues hidden within the core of the lighthearted moments.

Sanjeev, on the other hand, shares insights into the preparation process to better understand Manto and effectively immerse himself in the role. He says, “In my pursuit to understand Manto’s character, I delved into his life, exploring his struggles in the Mumbai film industry before partition. Thorough research was crucial, as Manto, a progressive writer, fearlessly expressed his thoughts, challenging societal norms. Despite facing resistance, he remained revolutionary.”

Sanjeev emphasised that attempting to imitate Manto exactly was impossible, so he focused on infusing the role with his thoughts, philosophies and sensibilities. While Sanjeev didn’t mimic Manto’s speech or style, he aimed to convey Manto’s idea authentically. The artiste says, “I am quite impressed by Manto’s persona. Even though he was bold and fearless, Manto was at the same time, quite soft-hearted. He had a brilliant aesthetic sense and would treat everyone with respect and kindness.” It’s remarkable how artistes today, not only delve into Manto’s literary works but also undertake the challenge of interpreting his life and contributions, drawing valuable lessons from his impact on society.

Rs 200. January 6 & 7. 8 pm.

Lamakaan, Banjara Hills

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