Toba Tek Singh: The Best Doze for a Saturday Evening

Gangubai Hangal Auditorium,
Manipal College of Philosophy and Humanities (MCPH)

It is indeed an uncanny place where one might spend his Saturday evening in a happening place Manipal is. The tempting doors of Zeal, Hakuna Matata or the recently opened Remix are always welcoming for a thrilling and fervent evening. However, one such evening on the 14th of April was spent with the obvious taken out of the equation, as the dazzling and trippy lights of a discotheque were replaced by stage lights. No one sitting in the crowd could make the slightest guess of what they were in for.

The lights were dimmed and an eerie silence filled the hall as Kalamanch, the official theatre group of the School of Communication (SOC), kicked-off its centre-stage production, Toba Tek Singh towards the end of this semester. Set in the backdrop of the Partition of India, one expects the premise of the play to be painful, an eye-opener to the horrors of the past. The crowd was almost led to believe a similar set of events to happen as they witnessed the shrieks and cries of a mother assaulted in-front of her daughter, a scene brought to live by the acting prowess of Rishika Kakoty and Purva Pathak, who also assumed the role of directing this show. The emotions pertained in the opening act were so real and agonizing, it was hard to believe that everything was staged.

However, here is where the cast took us by surprise. In no time, the scene quickly shifted to a Mental Asylum in Lahore. What followed was a roar of laughter as the madmen residing there took us on a ride of comedy and confusion. Be it Maaulvi Paagal, the authoritarian madman who thought of himself as Mohammad Ali Jinnah (played by Shweta Pal), or his sidekick, Ismail Sheikh (played by Tanya Saksena), or the fiery Panting Paagal, whose madness was displayed in an insanely quick but equally humorous dialogue delivery, a role brilliantly pulled off by Pranjal Hooda, or the one with the broomstick, the Brooming Paagal, who swept the floor while uttering his monologue of “Hindustan ya Pakistan(A character brought to life with some hilarious facial expressions by Alankriti Khare), each and every character, with his own distinctive feature of madness, took the stage by storm. To top it off, their idiosyncrasies with the guards of the asylum (played by Shreya Kumar and Pooja Parekh) weaved such a brilliantly orchestrated performance that there was hardly a moment where the audience stayed dead silent.

Realism, indeed was a major aspect of this performance, which was best portrayed by Lawyer Paagal, a person driven to madness by his unrequited love, in a breath-taking performance delivered by Shubham Tiwari. Him laughing helplessly, on his fate, as destiny denied him his partner for life. What made this particular monologue the highlight of the show was the fact that an array of emotions was being displayed one after the other, in spectacular style. Laughter, sadness, helplessness, the pain and agony of separation, everything was witnessed in that jaw-dropping scene.

A rendering question that stuck through the entirety of the play was, “Toba Tek Singh kahan hai?”, asked by the protagonist, Bhishen Singh, (played by Harihara Deva) the oldest in-mate in the asylum, a peculiar character who once was a well-to-do landlord in Toba Tek Singh, his homeland was driven mad under mysterious circumstances. This question stuck till the poignant ending of the play, where Bhishen lied in No Man’s land, with the words, “There, behind barbed wire, was Hindustan. Here, behind the same kind of barbed wire, was Pakistan. In between, on that piece of ground that had no name, lay Toba Tek Singh” echoing through the auditorium.