Gurmukh Singh Ki Wasiyat ~ Telefilm Review ~ Desi Reads

In keeping with my commitment to you all, to draw attention to quality projects that may otherwise have flown under your radar, here’s an absolute gem to start the week off on the right note.

Based on Saadat Hasan Manto’s short story by the same name, this telefilm, Gurmukh Singh ki Wasiyat, was a part of a series Partition Stories that aired in 2007 on PTV. Produced by Khalid Ahmed, the original story was adapted for screen by Sharjil Baloch who also directed this telefilm.

I don’t have to tell you the premise nor do I have to sell you a synopsis.

It’s Partition. It’s Manto.

Right off the bat you know  you are in for a raw no-holds barred kind of story telling .. but then precisely because it’s Partition and it’s Manto you never quite know which particular dark alley he’s going to lead you down and at what precise moment he’s gonna let go off your hand and … KaBoom!

Manto’s Khol Do is a Partition story in as much as a Thanda Gosht or a Toba Tek Singh … but to see them as being similar or to dismiss them as being variations of the same story is a big mistake.

And so Gurmukh Singh ki Wasiyat… as similar or as dissimilar as the rest of Manto’s other Partition stories.

I had read this story a while ago but had never seen an adapted version before, and so when I came across this one the other day  – thank you Google for linked searches – I stopped to check out of sheer curiosity. The first frame was enough. I was hooked.

Adapting short stories for screen is hard. Not every viewer is as prepped and tuned in to to the context as the self-selected reader, hence the screen adaptor’s job is made all the more challenging. To not only convince viewers to stay put but also to convey the nuances of the story while staying true to the spirit of the original.

Link for the Telefilm:

With a runtime of almost 47 mins, Sharjil Baloch and Khalid Ahmed’s Gurmukh Singh is a moving ode to the brilliant original. The darkness of the story is turned into a veritable character by the director and his DOP Majid Mumtaz. Here darkness is as much about the impending end of a chapter of history as it is about the depravity of human souls, but then it also about glow of friendship that lights up a darkened room or the fuzzy familiarity of neighbors gathered around to exchange news and gossip. Lighting is used to great effect to emphasize how not all nights are the same – the golden warmth of the night when old friends dismiss news of things changing forever is very different from the frigid fear of nights lit by the torches of rapists and killers.

With Ehteshamuddin as the creative head of the project, the aesthetics and attention to detailing are all spot on. Every frame is a visual delight. Musadiq Sanwal’s orignial songs lend that special touch of  authenticity to the over all ambiance.

Munawwar Saeed as the elderly Gurmukh Singh is the heart and soul of this story. Qazi Wajid as Abdul  Hayee, the retired judge sahab is effortlessly fabulous – he makes it all look so easy. Aamina Sheikh is heartbreakingly beautiful as Sughra, conveying the young girl’s fears, anxieties, joys, relief – a whole range of emotions so very organically. Hard to believe this telefilm was Aamina’s entry into the world of acting!

As with Manto’s other writings, this one too is a deceptively simple piece. It is not just about Partition or about pitting Hindus against Muslims or Sikhs against Muslims or Hindus or any other permutation thereof. Manto’s genius lies in that his work is as much a comment on his times as much as it on ours. The names and faces may have changed but the context remains unchanged. Riling up masses and commiting mass murders and getting away with them in the name of religion is still the easiest thing in the world.

Since we have announced Desi Reads, lets consider this post a segue and use this Manto short story for our first reading together. In addition to watching the telefilm you can read the original Urdu short story here  and an English translation can be accessed here. We will discuss the short story under this post only.

Written by SZ~

9 replies

  1. This story disturbed me so on many levels.. mostly it showed light on things were worse during partition times.. this has to be one of the best adaption of any story.. as much as i was involved in reading it… the telefilm was just very very brilliantly made.. it looked so real.. how electricity when cut off.. the darkness they showed was as realistic as it could be also symbolised dark times has just started.. Munawar Saeed,Qazi Wajid and Aamina sheikh were absouletly flawless…

    There is thing in Manto stories.. they just hit you so bad and make us thing and self analyse so much.. thank you so much for such great start to Desi Reads.. loved it.


    • Thank you @Rehmat for being the first person to comment on this heavy duty double-header post.. Mujhe laga bas ab koi bhi nahin bolne wala – shukar you responded 🙂

      I know its a heavy duty story and its a hard read and watch and I dont want to go into specifics -because all kidding aside I know ppl are busy and this stuff takes time to watch and read and digest – but I was really impressed by how they were able to convey so much without really going into very gory details or stretching out the melodrama … even more so impressive when you compare it to today’s dramas where every little tragedy is magnified a million times over and then the sad music and the tragic OST ka never
      ending alaap …so in comparison to that it was a smooth watch but so layered.

      Also I added in the stories, because I thought it would make for an interesting exercise to compare the original to the adapted version and talk about that process .. .more topical these days because we have a whole bunch of adapted stories – Ghughi, Aangan – coming our way.

      and yes! the acting I loved .. and so hard to tell this was Aamina’s first drama!

      More as we have others join in ..


  2. A very beautiful telefilm, if I remember correctly it was aired on ptv , part of a series named partition stories. All telefilms were amazing. Malbey ka malik,wo Pakistan yeh Hindustan, were also very good.


    • @SJ: Hey! Sorry, for the delayed response!
      Yes, this was a part of the Partition Series project … I couldn’t find the rest, but this one was uploaded by the director and so thought to share.


  3. That was brilliant. Thank you for the recommendation, SZ!

    I had not read this particular Manto story before, and I was disappointed that there doesn’t seem to be a Roman Urdu or Devanagari version online. So I decided to watch the telefilm first, and I’m sort of glad I did. I did go back afterwards and read the English version, but invariably, something is lost in translation.

    Re: the telefilm, this was a really great–if simple–production. Not only was the acting from nearly everyone spot on, but I thought the cinematography was great too. Filming so many scenes in the dark, with the characters faces partly shrouded, the viewer is made to feel the same sort of unease and uncertainty as the characters. Just like them, we’re also on tenterhooks waiting for the other shoe to drop. It’s sometimes difficult for a written story to translate to screen, but it was perfectly done here.

    As for the story itself, there’s that characteristic Manto feel to it, in that nothing is quite as ordinary or predictable as it seems, and people are not Hindu, Muslim, or Sikh, but just people–with all the same flaws and passions and prejudices, and there’s a touch of fatalism too, i.e. everyone is caught up in the hamster wheel of life, and their ends are inevitable.

    What is the song that plays in the OST? I think it’s a Bulleh Shah composition set to Tilang raag (?). It was really nicely done, and added to the overall mood of the telefilm.

    Kudos to everyone involved with this production, and brava, SZ, for another fantastic rec and write-up!


    • @RK: Thanks for checking this one out on my recc.. I know this one was not a happy/east watch so thank you for taking the timed to watch it .

      Re: the music, my understanding is that these are original songs by Mussadiq Sanwal, a fascinating personality on his own merit. Do check out this piece on him .. It is sad that we have so many fascinating and uber talented creatives but we hardly ever hear anything about them, but then we have the glamorous glitz, and to say nothing of ditzy, stars and we have newspapers and social media going crazy with their coverage of them and their daily affairs..

      Here’s his music


      • @RK: I dont know why your comment ended up in spam, but somehow it did, and I had deleted it without checking my spam folder .. khair long story short, I did manage to read it and copy it but couldn’t restore it – sorry! Pasting it below

        “Gorgeous music! Thanks for sharing.

        I’m disappointed to hear he’s no longer with us.”

        And yes … it is very very sad that he is no longer with us … but check out the talent in this particular telefilm .. sab log ek se badh kar ek!


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