Art of oral storytelling: Manto’s radio plays illustrate the comic side of witty Urdu writer
KARACHI: Zambeel Dramatic Readings successfully combined the tradition of oral storytelling, the reminiscent radio programmes and the rich literary work of Urdu writer Saadat Hasan Manto in a session at the The Second Floor (T2F) on Saturday.
During the reading, four performers mesmerised the audience with the plays of Manto written for the radio in 1940s, opening a window to another era.
Both young and old attended the storytelling event and everyone was closely listening to the play, with intervals of laughter. The reading and the soundtrack transported the listener back in time as the words delivered by the performers had a palpable visual quality.
Manto’s four plays were read during the one-hour session. The plays exposed the comic side of the writer who is known for his razor-sharp wit and observations about the underside of societal ills.
Manto wrote 10 plays in the 1940s for radio. Mahvash Faruqi, one of the four performers, said the writer was commissioned to write these plays. “I wrote these plays because I was hungry,” she quoted Manto as saying. In these scenes from a marriage, there were acute observations about marital relationships. The play showed constant bickering and the good-hearted arguments, which is part and parcel of a marriage.
‘Aao Manto Sunein’
The ‘Aao’ plays invite the readers and the performers to observe the scenes in the life of Kishore and his wife, Lajvanti. Kishore’s friend, Narayan, usually makes an appearance at the crucial moment to intervene in an argument between the husband and the wife. The audience who were listening to Manto’s ‘Aao’ for the first time could see some reflection of ‘Aangan Terha’ – a satire by Anwer Maqsood in the 1980s.
Ehteshamuddin performed the role of Kishore. He said he was happy to see Zambeel Dramatic Readings playing a role in the revival of literature in Pakistan. “I recently found a book that I read when I was a child. I wanted to pass on the book to my children so I staged a performance after editing it with sound effects and now all the children in my extended family are growing up listening to the stories of my childhood,” he said, emphasising the importance of storytelling.
Syed Meesam Naqvi, first-time performer at Zambeel, read the role of Narayan. He described the magnanimity of Manto’s character by quoting his words, “I write on a blackboard with a white chalk and if my writing stands out the credit doesn’t go to me.”
The role of Lajvanti was performed by Asma Mundrawala in one play and by Faruqi in three plays. Mundrawala also directed the ‘Aao’ performance. “Now I pay as much attention to the ambiance and the sound effects as the dialogue itself. With time there is less naivety in our readings and we have started focusing on small details. There is a conscious effort to create visual sounds.”
Faruqi said since the performers had theatre background, the expressions in the readings came naturally. “People appreciate these readings. We have new people in the audience every time,” said Faruqi. She said exposure to literature and performing arts will open minds and show new thought processes. “It is an exciting time to be an artist in Pakistan.”
“I won’t buy Manto’s book and read these plays on my own. I am getting exposure to literature in an entertaining way, which is great for my generation which has no exposure to Urdu literature,” said a member of the audience.
Actor and radio host Khalid Malik said that there was a need for radio plays. “Broadcasting reading performances will revive the art of storytelling on radio.”