LIFF 2016 Movie Review: ‘Toba Tek Singh’

Raj Baddhan

Senior Editor


Toba Tek Singh - Pankaj Kapur

As 2016�۪s London Indian Film Festival comes to an end, the prestigious festival�۪s last screening was Ketan Mehta�۪s ��Toba Tek SIngh�۪. As a part of the ��Zeal for Unity�۪ campaign, which is working towards uniting Pakistan and India, the film is an adaptation of author Saadat Hasan Manto�۪s short story of the same name. Written in first person context, the story (book and film) is told through the warden of a mental asylum�۪s perspective, where a particular old man is, wondering where his village resides as the partition of India and Pakistan takes place.

Lahore, 1947. Bishan Singh (Pankaj Kapur) gazes from the bars of his cell of a mental asylum, muttering a nonsensical sentence. He hasn�۪t slept, laid or even sat down since his arrival from his village; Toba Tek Singh, 15 years back. The arrival of the new warden, Manto (Vinay Pathak) ��seems to bring better management and care for the inmates of the asylum. With the news of the British Raj finally leaving the country and India gaining their independence, all seems well. Though the inmates have their own mental issues, they try and make sense of what is happening in the world outside. However, with the news of a partition happening soon after, there is confusion amongst the inmates as to which country they�۪re now in; Pakistan or India. There stems Singh�۪s only quest, ��Where is Toba Tek Singh?�۪, where he wishes to be. From there on the audiences are taking on their own quest through Singh, to find where indeed his village is, and what would become of him when a few years after partition, the government decide to have all the Hindu�۪s and Sikh�۪s in India, and all the Muslims in Pakistan?

It�۪s fair to say Mehta�۪s efforts in bringing this compelling story to life have been successful. The simplicity of the story forces the director to compose the film in an as transparent way, where he has allowed his actors to have the space to draw their audiences in through their performances, without becoming overly engrossed in the technical side of directing. In doing so Mehta was able to portray the mental asylum and the inmates, as a metaphor for how the people of the country really felt. Different characters represent different feelings, however, the protagonist Bishan Singh, replicates the main emotion; being lost and unaware of where to find answers. However, though Mehta has excelled in delivering a great story from a book, the audiences are left feeling a little unfulfilled. Throughout the film questions arise as to Singh�۪s history, where he came from and especially what was the meaning of his nonsensical sentence. With the film ending on a tragic but yet enlightening note however, it can be said that by leaving such details out, has the audiences think about the film after the curtains have gone down.

Kapur has proved every bit the National Award winner is, with his performance in this film being absolutely outstanding. Playing a crucial lead with only a few lines is far from an easy task. However, Kapur makes such a presence that the audiences can�۪t help but be awed by how he portrays such a character. The more he he comes on screen, the more the audiences are eager to know what his character is about. Kapur once again proves his brilliant talent, making it all seem so effortless yet having a great impact on those who witness him act. Pathak, is another actor who plays his role in such a humble manner, one can�۪t help but love him almost immediately. He fits perfectly into the role of Manto, with a soft spoken voice, a polite manner and a sheer respect for all those around him. Pathak, elevates a character who seems to be on the side of the audience, discovering more about the characters just as the audiences are, becoming someone they can relate to. Other performances from the rest of the cast work brilliantly, where they all work together towards portraying their characters as the minds of the nation of the time.

Mehta has delivered a wonderful film, where the audiences are able to take in how the story is being told. Where films based on the partition of India and Pakistan are normally about hatred, violence and sorrow, ��Toba Tek Singh�۪ shows a more emotional side of the incidents. Using characters that have psychologically disorders, works brilliantly as a way of showing how the people of the country weren�۪t able to understand why something like this was happening, when they were already living together in peace and harmony already. On a down side, as much as the audiences becoming touched with the film, they seem to be at a loss with Kapur�۪s character. Being the protagonist, audiences are constantly drawn to being shown what Singh�۪s own story is. As the film draws to an end, they are left with feeling as though the may have missed something, making it harder for them to connect with his character. Overall however, the outline of the film and story is very clever, and most of all extremely honest. One doesn�۪t need to know the history in order to relate the the film, and audiences do leave feeling touched and enlightened.

BizAsia Showbiz Rating: 3.5/5