Toba Tek Singh follows the story on Bishan Singh (Pankaj Kapoor), a Sikh inmate of a mental institution, who hasn’t slept for 15 years and always asks the same question “Where is Toba Tek Singh?”, the name of his home village. The new warden (Vinay Pathak) takes delight on Bishan and the other patients’ eccentricities. However, with the Partition of India and Pakistan it seems that the world outside is more insane then the people inside, and the institution must give up all its Hindu and Sikh inmates. Singh is marched to the new border, but in which country is his beloved home?
The film, directed by Ketan Mehta, is part of Zeal For Unity, an initiative launched by Zee that aims to bring together nations in conflict through their creative thought leaders. The initiative brings together 12 acclaimed filmmakers from India and Pakistan order to build bridges between both countries.
Being a low budget film, Toba Tek Singh presents some technical flaws. But these are not important. The purpose of the film is not to impress the audience with amazing cinematography. Its purpose is another, and that is to show the absurdity of Partition, and how decisions made by others dramatically affected the Indian subcontinent, consequences that almost 70 years later still condition the lives of Indians and Pakistanis alike. Manto’s story is not about lunatics only, it’s about everyone involved in those tumultuous times.
The film also fulfils the purpose of bringing Manto’s work back into the limelight. With the 70th anniversary of Partition approaching next year, the writer’s stories are more relevant than ever. Manto’s work brings attention on the horrors of Partition, and how this traumatising event disrupted the lives of so many people.
It is praiseworthy how the director and the producers have managed to bring together such amazing talent and create a solid story on such limited budget. Special mention to the main actors. Pankaj Kapoor gets into the skin of Bishan Singh with ease, and is capable of building a complex character without resulting absurd. Vinay Pathak takes the role of the new warden, but he is also a reimagination of Manto himself. He takes special interest on Bishan’s story, but is unable to do anything in order to stop what will become the inmate’s undoing.
Toba Tek Singh is a very recommended film to watch. It does not only approach a very traumatic event in the history of India, but it also gives an opportunity for the audience to get to know some of Manto’s most acclaimed work. We hope this film and the other films included in the initiative Zeal For Unity have as much broadcasting as possible, either in cinemas or in the Zee network.
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