Title: Toba Tek Singh – Boltay Afsanay Manto Special
First aired: May 11, 2012
Beamed at: TVONE
Cast: Nabeel and Rashid Farooqui
Writer: Saadat Hasan Manto
Director: Shaquielle Khan
Yesterday was Saadat Hasan Manto’s 100th birthday and I keenly surfed all our entertainment channels all evening to see whether they would acknowledge the greatest short story writer. Unfortunately, no channel interrupted their normal transmission to show a special play on any one of Manto’s remarkable short stories, except for TVONE.
PTV Home decided to show a Nadeem-Shabnam movie Bandish, since former movie star Shabnam, now a Bangladeshi resident, is visiting Pakistan these days after a gap of 14 years. Geo showed Apsara Awards, the film and television guild that awards the Indian TV and film fraternity. Regular serial such as Quddusi Sahab Ki Bewa and show Comedy Kings were telecast on ARY Digital and Hum TV broadcasted their regular serial Mata-e-Jaan Hai Tu and their series Kitnee Girhain Baqi Hain.
Hence TVONE was the only channel that bothered to remember Manto on his birthday by showcasing Toba Tek Singh (TTS) in its weekly series of Boltay Afsanay. Anyone taking on this story would find it a challenge to adapt for a medium like TV. For one there are no traditional protagonists. Everyone in TTS is a lunatic who due to Partition has to now either go to Pakistan or India based on his religious faith. When the madmen discover that they will have to leave their mental asylum it causes much anguish and further affects their mental balance.
If there is a leading protagonist then that is Bishen Singh who is also known as TTS but his is a bizarre character. This is a man who has never sat or lay down in the 14 years of his life in the asylum. Women are barely mentioned in the story except for Singh’s daughter who comes to visit him yearly. Then there are no plot twists in the narrative except for a devastating climax. Also television and film are both visual media in which images make a powerful impact and TTS presents a challenge in terms of imagery even though it has memorable powerful characters.
Keeping all these challenges in mind, Shaquielle Khan’s TTS is a disappointment and this is due to several reasons. For one Nabeel cast as a narrator, is shown holding a book, presumably the one that has the short story TTS. Not once does he look into the book to indicate that he is reading from it but instead holds it stiffly in his hands and looks directly into the camera and narrates the story. This either means he has a great memory and hence has no need to look into the book or the director thought that it would be a nice touch!
Rashid Farooqui as TTS is unable to do justice to his role and that probably has to do with his make-up. Made to wear an atrocious silvery-white wig and fake beard, he looks unconvincing as the sad mad man who is trying to figure out whether his town Toba Tek Singh is in Pakistan or India. Set decor too had glitches. With smoke billowing in certain scenes, it seems the director could not decide whether he wanted the play to have a horror ambience or a dread-filled atmosphere. To me it came across a low-budget horror film, a tragic treatment of one of the most brilliant short stories ever written about the tragedy of Partition.