Manto through Chughtai’s eyes
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Ismat Chughtai is remembered as one of the most fearless female writers of the country. Her short story Lihaaf (The Quilt), about the sexual liaison between a ‘begum’ and her retainer, outraged Urdu readers when it came out in 1942. But it also marked the start of her feminist writings,” says Anuradha Marwah.
Marwah has written Ismat’s Love Stories—a tribute to Chughtai’s writing and her personal life that will be staged on 19 August at the India Habitat Centre. A finalist at the Hindu Playwright Award 2016, the play is produced by the Delhi-based Pandies’ Theatre.
The story attempts to explore the relationship between Chughtai and her contemporary, Saadat Hasan Manto. They were close friends but Manto’s relocation to Pakistan in 1948 was publicly denounced by Chughtai. After his death, a heart-broken Chughtai penned an essay on Manto, titled “My Friend, My Enemy”. This essay, along with Chughtai’s novel Terhi Lakeer (Crooked Line) and Manto’s essay Ismat Chughtai, were the inspirations for the play.
The hour-long English play alternates between a fictional interview with the author, in her late 60s, a fictional reconstruction of Chughtai’s and Manto’s meetings in the 1940s, and dramatizations of their writings about each other. It was first performed in February, in Delhi.
“The challenge, while directing the play, was the portrayal of characters. For example, Manto is known for his booming, anti-communal voice. But through his conversations with Ismat as well as his wife, Safiya Manto, we see him as someone who is not absolutely comfortable with feminist voices,” explains Sanjay Kumar, director of the play.
Safiya’s character too required research. “Though often overshadowed, her character is one who is celebrating love but is also trying to find her place in a life with Manto, who has his own ideas about a woman’s place. And then there is, of course, Chughtai herself—who is visibly uncomfortable with the world of media, as seen in the interview scene.
“Our attempt with the play has been to look at all three characters, two of them already well known, within a feminist discourse,” adds Kumar.
Ismat’s Love Stories will be staged on 19 August, 7.30pm, at The Stein Auditorium, India Habitat Centre, Lodhi Road. Tickets, Rs200, Rs350 and Rs500, available at the venue and on in.bookmyshow.com