If you are in any way related to India and Pakistan, but yet unaware of a legend called Saadat Hassan Manto, then allow me to say that you haven’t really experienced one of the most blessed and brutally honest story tellers belonging to both the nations yet. And probably haven’t felt, read or known the actual, hidden reality behind three key subjects of life namely - a human’s eternal struggle with sexual lust, the sad state of woman in our sick-biased society and the unimaginable-horrendous bloodbath seen in the years of Indian partition around 1947.
In fact any kind of study about Indian Partition can easily be considered as ‘Incomplete’ if the person hasn’t looked into those times through the deep, sharp and straightforward expressions of Janaab Saadat Hassan Manto.
Among the most famous characters created by the maestro is of Sardar Bishan Singh, also known as Toba Tek Singh by the name of his native land, and this one story has been adapted several times before by various writer-directors of different eras since its origin post the Indian Partition. However after watching this latest adaptation by Ketan Mehta and his team featuring Pankaj Kapur, I haven’t got a slightest of doubt in rating it as the best ever film made on this particular story till date …….. that is sure to remain THE BEST looking at the present scenario around in terms of thoughtful filmmaking.
The above expression might sound ‘a bit exaggerated’ to many, but there is actually more than one reason for such praises articulated in the descriptive heading above, explained in the following points.
Adaptation – The present version of the story TOBA TEK SINGH excels as an adaptation since it rises much above the level of mere presenting the story as written by Manto, following a quite descriptive and innovative narrative never seen before in any other adaptation of the subject till date.
Interpretation – It has the rare merit of interpreting the original idea of its writer in the most authentic, meaningful and heart-touching manner that was more or less missing in all the previous attempts made by the various directors. May be because, they were just sticking to the famous storyline without trying any innovation or reaching its actual depth in absence of any gifted artist to play the lead role of Sardar Bishan Singh.
Visualisation - Though having a short duration of around 70-75 minutes, Ketan Mehta never visualizes it as a short film and shoots it exactly like a full length feature with a brilliant art direction, splendid camerawork and a perfect casting. Plus it’s the background music that truly enhances its overall impact on the viewer exactly like ‘a period drama’ shot at a decent scale. Having said that, I personally did feel the much required heart-piercing melody missing in those traditional verses & alaaps added just at the right moments in its various important sequences.
Expansion - The most important and exclusive feature of Ketan’s TOBA TEK SINGH remains its highly appreciative, well thought of and pleasantly creative expansion given to the story idea by Ketan as the writer too.
And why it’s exceptional?
Because (hold your breath), Ketan adds the character of Saadat Hassan himself in the script as the Officer-In-Charge of the mental asylum, who has a passion of writing short stories. So he narrates the whole story of Sardar Bishan Singh and his inmates through the eyes of Saadat only that truly deserves a great unanimous applause indeed.
Amalgamation - The second exclusive feature of this unmissable venture is that its just not the presentation of a single story of MANTO, but an amalgamation of more than one famous works of his, beautifully interwoven in the narrative giving a sudden unexpected shock to the viewers (as always there in Manto’s last lines). But maintaining ‘the exclusivity’, I will not like to ‘OPEN’ the name of that other prominent story featured in the film as a significant addition.
Enactment - A film like TOBA TEK SINGH can never be made by a director alone, even if he has an outstanding vision in his mind to present a particular script idea. A director always remains dependent upon a team of equally talented actors who can enact his vision on screen in the most accurate manner. And to give them their much deserving credit, this particular gem could only become possible due to three highly talented and blessed artists namely Pankaj Kapur (as Toba Tek Singh), Vinay Pathak (as Officer Saadat Hassan) and the actor playing the role of asylum’s old caretaker. Together these three simply transport you into that painfully tragic era when even the decades old friends suddenly turned into two deadly enemies.
Individually where Pankaj gives another powerful, career best performance as Sardar Bishan Singh; Vinay very subtly plays his assigned role of Saadat Hassan with an adorable elegance and the old caretaker simply wins your heart with his constant smile and well written one liners right from the first scene itself.
In fact post experiencing this magnificent film, one is forced to accept the ugly fact, that how in our country we do not recognize and honour the blessed masters of their art in their given lifetime and always try to present them as the most loved and respected achievers of their field when they are already gone.
Sharing my personal viewpoint, the moment I read the story of TOBA TEK SINGH in the early 90s, I had only two actors in mind who could authentically portray the tough character on screen with their own conviction. One was Virender Saxena, who played the role of an eccentric, thin-bodied Sikh in the widely acclaimed TV series TAMAS, and two – Pankaj Kapur who could easily slip into the body of Sardar Bishan Singh knowing the language, tradition and region at a personal level. Luckily the role reached the most deserving candidate after almost three decades and the result is finally here proving my assumption right.
On a concluding note, this ‘lesser known’ gem should soon be released by the producers (Zee) either in the selected theaters or on any of their TV channels at the earliest, since TOBA TEK SINGH is not only a film with the power to transform hearts at both sides of the wires installed ...... but its also a rare masterpiece created by a blessed, visionary team that ideally should not be kept away from its starving audience for long.
(Note : The film has been made as a part of the Zee’s Zeal of Unity initiative wherein renowned directors from India and Pakistan are brought in together for making some thoughtful films.)
Rating : Movies To See Before You Die
(Make sure you do watch the film (when available) as well as read MANTO as the ‘next urgent task’ of your life and stay blessed.)