Why did two of Urdu literature’s best writers face a court case for their stories? Watch the play Manto…Ismat Haazir Hain! by Motley Theater Group to find out.

Actors: Heeba Shah, Ankur Vikal, Rakesh Chaturwedi, Darshan Gandas, Imran Rashid
Writer: Saadat Hasan Manto, Ismat Chugtai
Director: Naseeruddin Shah

Vijay-photoManto…Ismat Haazir Hain! features two short stories by Saadat Hasan Manto and one short story and essay by Ismat Chugtai. Naseeruddin Shah has picked up two of the most controversial stories of the writers which almost put them in the prison. The slice-of-life stories revolve around a memory or an incident. What makes them beautiful is the word play.

Boo written by Manto is a monologue by Ankur Vikal. It talks about a man’s one-night stand with a ‘ghatan’ woman. He is captivated by her bodily smell which is neither a perfume nor her body odour. Years later he tries to find that smell in his wife’s body.

Titwal Ka Kutta is a satire by Manto set in a village named Titwal located on Indo-Pak border. One night a dog wanders into the Indian camp. The soldiers get amused and name him Chaparjhunjhun and believe that it is a ‘Hindustani kutta’. What they don’t know is that the dog is also friendly with the Pakistani soldiers across the border.

Lihaaf is one of Chugtai’s most famous and controversial works. Narrated by Heeba Shah, the story is about a little girl who is left in the custody of her distant aunt Beghum Jaan for a week. Beghum Jaan is married to a nawab who is homosexual and shows no interest in her. The little girl adores her aunt’s beauty but is afraid of her blanket that takes gigantic shapes in the night. What does she find inside the dancing blanket?

As a result of moral policing Manto and Ismat were charged of obscenity and faced a court trial for their stories Boo and Lihaaf. The essay Un byahtaon ke naam by Chugtai is a funny take on the trial and is presented in the form of a skit.

Heeba Shah is a treat to watch. She narrates Lihaaf in a way that’ll give you goose bumps. She also plays Ismat Chugtai in the skit who cannot accept the male-dominated society’s double standards. Ankur Vikal brilliantly plays the quiet and gloomy Manto. Rakesh Chaturwedi does a good job in Titwal Ka Kutta.

Watch them to experience the director’s sheer brilliance to pick up these beautiful stories and make them into a play. The narration flows so smoothly that boredom doesn’t seep in even for a second.