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Suchitra Krishnamoorthi: ‘I am starting to dream in Urdu now’

Ipshita Mitra | Updated on May 24, 2019

Show time: Suchitra Krishnamoorthi plays a Kashmiri journalist in Ek Haan   -  COURTESY: SUCHITRA KRISHNAMOORTHI

The actor on her role in a play about Manto, and the joy and challenges of tapping into the dark and voyeuristic mind of the writer

Twenty-five years ago, Suchitra Krishnamoorthi played Anna, the musical girl-next-door who chooses another man over Shah Rukh Khan in Kundan Shah’s Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa. Her character and the movie tug at the heartstrings even today, conjuring up bittersweet memories of love, regret and nostalgia. In between, she has starred in a few more movies, including Robbie Grewal’s recent espionage thriller Romeo Akbar Walter, where Krishnamoorthi essayed the role of a newspaper editor in the backdrop of the 1971 war. In 2013, she turned author with her memoir, Drama Queen. Currently, she is preparing for a role in Ek Haan, a play based on the life and times of the writer Saadat Hasan Manto. Directed by Randhir Ranjan Roy and written by Neha Kargeti, the play — which premieres in Mumbai in June-end — will see Krishnamoorthi playing a Kashmiri journalist who visits Pakistan to unravel truths and mysteries about Manto (played by Shekhar Suman).

In a chat with BLink, she dwells on how she discovered Manto’s writings, the challenges of adapting non-fiction for theatre, and more. Edited excerpts:

When did you first discover Manto?

I had known about Manto and his works, and even have a compilation of his stories in a big fat book at home alongside my Shakespeare. I rediscovered him through the film (Nandita Das’s Manto) made on him recently. It jogged my memory of these amazingly powerful stories and his deeply lyrical yet nihilistic mindscape. He is probably the most important writer to chronicle the true face of Partition. Thanda Gosht and Toba Tek Singh are some of the stories that have stayed with me. Manto wrote what he saw, as his mind perceived it. He didn’t write what he imagined.

 

In an interview, Shekhar Suman said he hasn’t watched Das’s Manto, to ensure it will not influence his own interpretation of the man. What is your take?

I have watched the film and, like I said, it rekindled my interest in Manto’s writings. My character is not in the film, so I have nothing to be influenced by or worry about. I can interpret it (character) my way.

What made you say yes to Ek Haan?

I play a Kashmiri journalist who has decided to stay back in divided India whilst Manto has moved to Pakistan. She is a character not just keen on tapping into the dark and voyeuristic mind of Manto but also discovering Saadat Hasan, and finding herself through that.

I accepted the role because I’m a fan of Manto’s work and the script uses a lot of his original words and writings, which are music to my ears. Also, the sheer terror of learning to speak long dialogues in Urdu — my Hindi is poor, but I am starting to dream in Urdu now. My knowledge of Urdu is non-existent and, let’s face it, good roles are very hard to come by. Regardless of the medium, I need to bite into something that fires me as an artiste, and this script did that for me.

What do you think of Manto’s women?

Manto’s women are very powerful because their writer didn’t see them as lesser or unequal. He saw them as equal drivers of his stories and treated a prostitute with as much dignity as he treated the wife. He was exceptionally emancipated in his writings for a man of his era.

Yes, Manto is perhaps one of the few authors who wrote empathetically about prostitutes. He never condemned them but tried to understand their circumstance. Instead, he condemned men’s lust and greed for dominance as the root cause of all evil.

Is Manto a feminist, according to you?

Manto wrote things as he saw them, without imposing his moral judgement, and yet he made your heart bleed through his pen. Yes, I do think Manto was a feminist — big time! He saw women as people, and not necessarily as objects of desire. His stories were about the human experience and how circumstances shaped behaviour and thinking. He left it to the reader to form their own interpretations of his characters and stories.

His wife Safia seldom featured in his works. Would your character in the play be seen interacting with her?

No, his wife doesn’t feature in the play. It is entirely about Manto and my character’s exploration of his mind and subsequent understanding of him, and thereby herself, through their personal and professional interactions.

How do you compare the stage adaptation of your memoir, Drama Queen, with your role in Ek Haan, both being works of non-fiction. Is that a risky proposition or a smooth ride for an artiste?

Drama Queen is a play I have written, and even if I change lines and do my own thing on stage, nobody will know. I take that liberty often, and my command over English is strong enough for me to do that. Manto (the play) is in Urdu/Hindi. It is the work of an already renowned writer whose words people are familiar with, so I don’t have that liberty — I will have to go by rote.

As an artiste, you have to do what ignites your passion. I have refused a few film roles in the past for various whimsical reasons and those films went on to become hits, so my choice is not always right.

My choice of roles has been confounding even to me and mostly driven by vagaries of mood and how I prioritise my time. But when I do take up something, and as long as it excites me creatively, I am comfortable with the people I am working with. I will do it with all the josh I can give it.

Do we see you direct a play soon?

No plans for that right now. I have written two short films though, and may try to get those on the floor. Direction and production require hard work. Acting is the easiest job in the world, and I want to take things easy for now.

Ipshita Mitra is a Delhi-based independent writer

Published on May 24, 2019

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