Rumi and Manto Share the Spotlight

Anumeha Verma
Published: October 2018

Ambal Productions takes a witty look at two literary icons through the lens of the 21st Century

What will happen if Rumi, the 13th century Persian poet and Manto, the prolific Urdu writer who lived in 19th century British India met in today’s world? An imaginary meeting between these two icons of the literary world in the backdrop of Mumbai Literature Festival is the premise for ‘Rumi aur Manto’ produced by Ambal Productions.

Mohit Sharma, the actor, playwright and director delivers a solo performance, switching between Rumi’s profound and Manto’s restless characters.

The production is staged at Atta Galatta, a popular space in Bengaluru for a number of cultural gatherings. An absence of props is the first thing that strikes you as you enter the venue. Mohit’s only companions on stage throughout the play are clever interplays of light and shade.

The actor delivers slices from lives of Rumi and Manto, drawing on their pasts and their present day perceptions amongst people. Rumi has always been the revered mystic, claimed by three nations as their national poet. In contrast, Manto was charged six times for obscenity both in India and in Pakistan for his fiery writings.

As the play progresses, we find Rumi and Manto navigating through pseudo-intellectual conversations with celebrities that usually flock such literary events. Witty takes on Indo-Pak wars, Uncle Sam, drunken escapades of youngsters, social media, religious conflicts, Netflix and a number of other contemporary issues draw quite a few laughs from the audience. Underneath his witticisms, Manto is as angry and disillusioned with the society in the play as he was in the 1940s. A disgusted Manto, when criticised for his stories had once said, “If you find my stories dirty, the society you are living in is dirty. With my stories, I only expose the truth.”

Rumi, on the other hand, is the mystic accepting this world with open arms just as he did centuries ago. Throughout the play, Manto calls him, ‘Maulana’, in deference to his stature. Rumi is more amused than anything else by the modern world and Manto’s anger. He sees hope where Manto sees pretence.

Dialogues between Rumi and Manto are interspersed with Rumi’s poems and accompanied by haunting and poignant background score from the Kashmir Valley. Most of the verses originate from Rumi’s Masnavi, a collection of poems and also borrows lines from Manto’s short story, Black Margins.

While looking at contemporary issues the play also attempts to understand what it means to be an artist through the lives of these two iconic figures. ‘Rumi aur Manto’ leaves the audience with an interesting question – Is the persona of an artist different from his art?

The show continues to be screened at different venues in Mumbai, Bengaluru, Delhi and Hyderabad. The production house hinted that they would love to take it to Pakistan too.

 - Anumeha Verma is at present working with Jain University and believes that strategic communication plays a major role in solving development issues.