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Ishtiaq Omar as Saadat Hasan Manto surrounded by the character he had one created in the play Mantorama.–Photo by White Star

KARACHI: Many, if not all, characters of Saadat Hasan Manto’s plays came to life to resurrect their creator on the occasion of his birth centenary in the form of a play Mantorama presented by the National Academy of Performing Arts (Napa) at the Arts Council of Pakistan on Thursday evening.

Penned by Khurram Shafique and directed by former Napa student Sunil Shankar, the play had Manto’s characters putting him on the spot to confront him on living like a loser despite being the gifted writer that he was. They asked him why he did nothing other than tell their stories and waste his life away in cigarette smoke and liquor. As he would be engrossed in conversation with his characters, one could hear his suffering wife Safia calling out to him to bring him back to the realities of life.

There he was the young man who didn’t care for worldly things, who fell in love only to learn about unfaithfulness, who didn’t exactly go to prostitutes for the reason others go to them but to befriend them and hear the stories of their miserable lives, who got so sick of the hatred of people during Partition that he left Mumbai to migrate to Lahore via Karachi but here, too, he couldn’t find the peace of mind that his restless soul yearned for.

In Pakistan, he faced people’s insults and accusations as one story after another that he wrote was trashed by the people, with him even getting sued for some of them. No one saw the sensitivity in his words. They just wanted to catch his words to twist them into something vulgar. Disheartened, he sought refuge in alcohol for which he would even use up the money his wife had borrowed for their sick little daughter’s medicine. He lied to his loved ones, he hated himself, he went mad, he couldn’t write anymore and prayed for his own death until his own story reached its conclusion.

The poor prostitute Saugandhi and her pimp discussing money matter with Manto making character out of them in the background in Mantorama.–Photo by White Star

The characters of the play — Eshar Singh, Mirza Ghalib, Hindustan, Maadho, Saugandhi, Wazeer, Safia and Manto played by Rauf Afridi, Adnan Jafar, Zain Nazar, Raheel Ahmed, Mazina Malik, Anushka Malik, Afreen Sahar and Ishtiaq Omar, respectively — contributed to the sombre mood of the tragedy of a brilliant life gone to waste. The orchestra comprising Ahsan Bari, Alan Simon, Zeeshan Pervez and Gul Mohammad took the audience back in the past along with gentle vocals by Sarah Haider who sang Ghalib.

Earlier, to set the mood of the drama, the audience was provided a glimpse of Manto’s works and his cynical humour when well-known artist Khalid Ahmed teamed up with three Napa students Owais Mangalwala, Nazrul Hasan and Fawad Khan for readings of his “Shaheed saz”, “Main film kyon nahi dehkhta”, “Sawal paida hota hai” “Main afsana kyon likhta hoon” and a foreword from one of his books.

Mantorama will be presented at the Arts Council for five days. The final performance will be held on July 9.