Manto’s Ten rupees redone retains old appeal
ISLAMABAD: These days, Manto is in the air. And in a quest to celebrate Manto’s centenary, Pakistan National Council of the Arts (PNCA) put up a rendition of his short story Ten rupees on Wednesday in a simple but effective production.
Directed by Sabir Khan and written by Arshad Chohan, the play took a wonderfully written short story and converted it into an effective act that captures all the simple but highly complicated emotions Manto portrays through his characters.
This play too dealt with the subject of prostitution but in a manner that found innocence in a trade considered deplorable.
In typical paradoxes that Manto loves filling his stories with, this story too is of a little girl, Sarita, no more than 15, who has been thrust into the world of selling herself for money by her very own mother.
But with the trade, maturity does not automatically find its way in the little girl’s plump figure and childish desires. Played by a petite Shugufta Khan, Sarita finds herself being taken in the ‘motor’ (car) of Seth Sahib, the rich men of Bombay, to entertain and experiment.
Sarita loves the idea of sitting in the motor, and as she is getting ready to be taken to the Seth Sahibs, she declares, “Oh I hope the big sahib does not take me to the hotel straight away and my ride ends quickly!”
The Seth, performed by Sabir Khan himself, played the essential role of providing the connection between Sarita, the hired girl, and his two Hyderabadi friends she is supposed to be entertaining. And as they all drink to lower their inhibitions, eventually managing to trick Sarita into joining them too, the mood lightens and revelry becomes more exciting.
But the childish immaturity of Sarita does not go anywhere. Even when one of the sahibs tries to make a move on her, the reaction is a loud peal of laughter as Sarita is tickled more than anything else. At one point, pleased with Sarita’s likability, Seth Sahib rewards her with 10 rupees, money meant only for her and no one else.
As the night goes on in fun bouts of singing, dancing and general laughter, the men have a good time with Sarita, the plump and spunky girl who likes playing Chingo and wishes to get dolls, until one prepares oneself for the denouement, when the mood will change and a window into a tragic ending will open.
And the moment arrives, rather suddenly, as Seth Sahib gets mad at Sarita and shoves her for touching her beloved niece’s doll with her dirty hands. And within seconds, Sarita goes from being the childish play-mate to the dignified woman.
She throws the 10 rupees at Seth Sahib and walks away. “What are the 10 rupees for when we haven’t done anything,” she asks. And the transformation from a girl to a woman is complete.
The ending, it has to be said, was the weakest part of the rendition, not in its re-writing or ineffectiveness, but perhaps a failure to reach a sufficient enough climax and then resolve it successfully. After a very successful performance of the child
Sarita, her womanly maturity hits and finishes within seconds, giving the audience hardly anytime to absorb it and the play ends a moment too quickly.
The decision of the writer to re-write the play and change its setting from the car and the beach as Manto originally wrote it, to the introduction of the doll, that ultimately became the point of contention also fundamentally changed the design of Manto’s original play.
Without any conflict in the original Manto story, the childishness of Sarita is never brought into question, and her return of 10 rupees makes the reader question if for Sarita, her trade is a mere transaction, with a refund when the transaction does not take place.
But with the addition of the issue of the doll and the matter of Sarita’s honour, another creative dimension is added to the play, and a new flavour added to Manto’s original version – making the play successful on its own.