LAHORE-Theatre is a strong medium for conveying some social message. The main reason is that the response to a performance is immediate and if it is good it leaves an imprint on the minds of the audience. Recently a classical play ‘Kaun Hai Yeh Gustakh’ was staged at Alhamra Art Council in collaboration with Ajoka Theatre to mark the 61st death anniversary of great Urdu-writer Sadaat Hassan Manto.

Written by Shahid Nadeem and directed by Madeeha Gauhar the play deals with Manto’s struggle with his detractors and an increasingly conservative and intolerant Pakistan which he foresees in his writing and amazing prescience. Manto had migrated because of family pressures (his wife and her relatives had already gone to Pakistan) and his disillusionment at the Hindu Muslim tensions in Bombay which had adversely affected the atmosphere of the Bombay film industry. What Pakistan has become today Manto predicted with great vision in his short stories.

The cast of the play included Usman Raj, Kamran Mujahid and Uzma Hassan. The performance was being organised in collaboration with the Lahore Arts Council. The award-winning film “Manto” which was directed by Sarmad Khoosat was based on this play.

The play includes enacted extracts from Manto’s short stories and essays and the court cases on charges of pornography.

The enactment of scenes from these writings is followed by the hostile reception which Manto got both from the rigid Left and the intolerant Right and a conservative establishment. He is denounced by the leftists as a reactionary enemy of the people while the rightists accuse him of being a pornographer and a Communist lackey. Manto was a mild-mannered person but he was indeed an impudent Gustakh writer. He never minced words when it came to calling spade a spade. At a time when eminent writers were hiding behind ideologies or flowery language Manto broke the taboos, tore through barriers and exposed.

While Manto is harassed and persecuted by the courts and the press, and exploited by the publishers, he fondly remembers his years in Bombay and his close friend Shyam. In his loneliness he is visited by a mysterious woman who wants him to write her story. In the play Manto  visited by characters from his stories and essays like “Khuda Ki Qasam”, “Khol Do”,  “Kal Saveray jo Ankh Meri Khuli”, “License”,  “Letters to Uncle Sam”, :Thanda Gosht” and “Toba Tek Singh” which  have been used as a vehicle to narrate Manto’s literary and emotional journey. Eventually Manto becomes an alcoholic and is sent to the Lahore Mental Hospital where he finds the inmates more humane and sensitive than people from the outside “sane’ world. The play ends with Majeed Amjad’s powerful poetic tribute to Manto.