Saadat Hasan Manto – a name that long lingers in the literary scene of the Indian subcontinent, and adjoining land too. The credit goes back to as long as partition. 22 collections of short stories, a novel, five series of radio plays, three collections of essays, two collections of personal sketches under his belt but the freedom struggle stories remain his best works. Picking one of Manto’s works, Ketan Mehta made Toba Tek Singh. The short story stars Pankaj Kapur in the lead titular role while he also adds the narration part to Vinay Pathak’s character Saadat Hasan Manto.
Manto, in Mehta’s film, is the warden superintendent of a mental asylum in Lahore during the British era.
Celebrating the ongoing quest of belonging, Pankaj as Bishan Singh is a treat. He is shown as once a wealthy landlord but now an oldie who hasn’t slept in fifteen years. He stares into the oblivion, and forever murmurs “Upar di gur gur di annexe di bedhiyana di moong di daal of di lalten.” The story was written in 1955, around the India and Pakistan partition of 1947. In the film, post-separation, Bishan and his inmates at the madhouse are to be exchanged as the normal population between the newly formed nations. Regardless of their displaced judgment, these inmates don’t want to leave the company of those they have been living with for the longest. Bishan starts asking everyone around, “Where is Toba Tek Singh (the village he hails from)?”
Ask Pankaj and he mentions of the film being a dual quest. “It is interesting how the audience can see two parts of the story. From its outer layer, it talks about the partition of two countries, India and Pakistan. In between the lines, it talks about the struggle of a man who is searching the answer of ‘Who am I’?” he told a leading news agency.
The piece of land is situated on the India – Pakistan border. While Toba Tek Singh after the partition becomes a part of Pakistan, Bishan is forced to go to India because he was a Hindu. In a fight for his belongingness, Bishan breathes his last behind the barbed fence wire of India and in front of the one that fenced Pakistan – no man’s land was Toba Tek Singh. Bishan becomes one with his land. And his tragic dying becomes symbolic of the madness the 1947 partition stands for!
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