When Rumi meets Manto
What would happen if the poet Rumi and writer Manto were to meet in today’s time? How would they react to the fame each has acquired? You might not have to wonder anymore, thanks to Mohit Sharma’s play, Rumi Aur Manto. A solo performance, the play has Sharma portraying both the characters in an 80-minute play, which looks at the interactions between the two, should they meet in a present-day cafe or literature festival, where they’re listening to seminars on them and their works.
“When you are an artist or writer, people interpret your work in ways you wouldn’t have thought of before,” says Sharma, who was interested in seeing how the two would interact fictitiously, especially since his characterisation portrays one as angry and angst-filled and the other as calm and composed. “Here, Manto is visiting from hell, which is a take on how moral police told him to go to hell for the works he did. Rumi, on the other hand, comes from heaven since he spoke so much about peace and never rubbed anyone the wrong way,” adds the 43-year-old from Mumbai, who has over 15 years of acting experience.
The play, which first premiered in Mumbai in October 2017, had Sharma spend a year-and-a-half in reading Rumi’s poetry before he could even attempt translating it to Hindi and Urdu. He adds that as a writer, he also took the liberty of drawing some analogies to the scenario in today’s world. “For example, the play has Rumi say the following to Manto: Jannat ki jung mein//Lahu sa laal hua kesari Kashmir, which loosely translates to in the quest for heaven, Saffron clad Kashmir looks red in colour.”
While it was definitely a challenge playing two characters, the situation proves to be more fulfilling as well, and one that requires immense physical stamina. But since Sharma doesn’t rely on costume changes, how does one distinguish between his two characters? He answers that it took him three and a half months of rehearsal before he was ready with the play and the right voice and body language for each. “This, of course, is my adaptation of them but I have also relied on the populist image people have of them. So Manto has a strong and aggressive gait whereas Rumi has a softer appearance,” explains the actor, who is also a standup artist.
This, however, isn’t the first time Sharma is portraying multiple characters. Previously, he has also performed an production based on Manto’s Toba Tek Singh, which had him essay 19 characters on stage. Interestingly, it was this play that sparked off the idea for Rumi Aur Manto. Most of the audience members were between 20 and 40 years and would often stay back to discuss the play. “That’s when I realised that youngsters today seem to relate to Manto a lot. His fans may not have read his original works but it was interesting to see how society is waking up to him,” says Sharma.
Rumi Aur Manto will be staged at Atta Galatta on Jan 18-19.