Toba Tek Singh is based on Saadat Hasan Manto’s powerful satirical story about inmates in Lahore asylum during partition of India-Pakistan. The pain and jolts of the partition were violent, where the notions of national identity being torn into pieces, while a nation divided – it also divided the psyche of people and families. Ketan Mehta transforms the written analogy on-screen with diligence, given the sensitive subject-matter making the whole impactful.
Ketan Mehta’s film revolves around Bishan Singh (Pankaj Kapur), a Sikh inmate who hasn’t slept of 15 years, who is from the town of Toba Tek Singh. Manto (Vinay Pathak), the new warden brings better management and care for the inmates of the asylum. Although, the inmates suffer their own psychological issues – the news of partition creates confusion amongst them as to which country they now belong to. Ketan Mehta’s compelling storytelling forces you to experience the madness and turmoil of the characters, given the space he lends to extracting effective performances. Although, Mehta leaves with few unanswered and unattended questions, like, the relevance and meaning of Bishan Singh’s muttering.
Right atmospheric setting, where the asylum is more safe with communal harmony since inmates belong from almost all religions. Each character represents feelings and emotions, while Bishan Singh stands for a lost, unaware searching for answers – perhaps, the replication of people’s feelings during the partition. While they’re figuring out the existence beyond the walls, it gives a sense about the madness of the outer world. In the present vulnerable nationalism, Ketan Mehta’s Toba Tek Singh questions your own sanctity – I haven’t seen a faithful recreation of Manto’s story so far (eagerly waiting for Nandita Das’ Manto).
Cinematographer Raktim Mondal gazes through the existence and emotions of the characters, heavily depending upon exquisitely raw Production Design by Chetan Pathak. As stated above, Mehta’s strength lies with effective performances, a perfect ensemble where every actor manages to breath the space and perform the feelings, helps serve the purpose – “characters as the minds of the nation of the time”. Pankaj Kapur, the reliable actor delivers a terrific performance – with only handful lines, his transformation as an insomniac bewildered with pains of separation and existence.
Unfortunately, the 73 minutes film ends on a powerful note – there’s something amiss with connection of Bishan Singh’s character which remains as a sketch. But, deliverance of peace and unity with such a clever analogy recreated honestly on-screen is remarkable.
Release: 24 August, 2018 (on ZEE5)
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