“Two or three years after Partition, it occurred to the governments of Pakistan and Hindustan that like criminal offenders, lunatics too ought to be exchanged: that is, those Muslim lunatics who were in Hindustan's insane asylums should be sent to Pakistan, and those Hindus and Sikhs who were in Pakistan's insane asylums should be confided to the care of Hindustan.”
So begins Toba Tek Singh, one of Sadat Hasan Manto’s most powerful stories. Manto’s story, named after the village of the central character Bishan Singh, was a disturbing critique of the two newly formed countries. Now, Ketan Mehta is all set to take the story to the big screen.
The trailer of the film, starring accomplished actor Pankaj Kapur as Bishan Singh, and Vinay Pathak as Manto, was uploaded on YouTube on July 6.
Published in 1955, it tells the story of Bishan Singh, a Sikh man in a Lahore prison. While the Hindus in mental health homes in Pakistan are sent to India, their Muslim counterparts in India were sent to Pakistan. He was sent to India, but it turned out his village was in Pakistan.
Manto’s Bishan Singh was a curious character; the absurdity of his situation exposed the tragedy of India and Pakistan. When the film is released, Mehta’s cinematic rendition will be matched up to Manto’s satire. Hopefully, it will remain true to essence.
(The word lunatic – to refer to people with mental illness – has been retained here as it has been used in translations of the original text.)