By Ekavali Khanna | Opening Doorz Editorial | September 17, 2018
Nandita Das’ Manto is based on the life of one of the most compelling Urdu writers of the twentieth century—Saadat Hasan Manto
Disclaimer: I am not a film critic and this is not a film review. It is my response to watching a very strong and engaging film that moved me deeply.
Right from the very first sequence, the film portrays elements of brilliance: be it the storytelling the aesthetics, the costumes, the impeccable detailing or the sound. One minute into the film and one is transported into another era!
Manto himself said, “My stories are mirrors to society to see itself,” and Nandita Das’ Manto is one of the most truthful and vivid portrayals of the society in the partition and post-partition era.
The unconventional language and style of the narrative adopted by Nandita is fascinating and refreshing. She seamlessly incorporates a few of Manto’s most compelling stories into the biopic which have been enacted brilliantly by the ensemble cast.
Excelling as a director, she has extracted the potential of every actor to the optimum. Every actor shines even if it is in just one scene. Rishi Kapoor, Neeraj Kabi, Ranvir Shorey, Divya Dutta, Paresh Rawal, Tilottama Shome, Gurdaas Mann, Vinod Nagpal, Chandan Roy Sanyal… each one of them leave an indelible mark.
Recreating history and real characters in a biopic is a great responsibility and Nandita and her art and costume team have researched the period in detail and have recreated it in the most real way.
Kartik Vijay’s cinematography enhances the film at every level, while the purity of the music by Sneha Khanwalkar and the background score by Ustad Zakir Hussain elevates the experience of Manto.
I was introduced to the writings of Manto when I was 18, and since then, I have read most of his published work. Over the years, I had a strong impression of him in my mind and through his writing I did have an understanding of his passion, his sensitivity, his anger, his suffering and it was a bit overwhelming for me to see ‘Manto’ on screen.
Nawazuddin Siddiqui expresses Manto’s pride, self-respect, his deepest pain, his turmoil, his flaws, and his sensitivity to perfection. The actor who is known for his exceptionally nuanced performances has outdone himself with this role.
In Indian cinema, a biopic usually tends to glorify the person in a rather pretentious and dramatic way, but Nawaz has kept it real, devoid of any melodrama. The power of his riveting gaze and his craft is such that one almost feels like Manto has bared his soul on celluloid through this film. For me, witnessing Nawazuddin as Manto is the closest to knowing the writer himself!
One of the finest aspects of Manto is the casting which seems to have got everything right. Every single character including the secondary cast is so real that it uplifts the film. Rasika Duggal as Safia carries herself throughout with grace; the manner in which she has portrayed being strong and gentle at the same time is commendable. The kindness in her eyes brings out the beautiful being Safia was. Tahir Raj Bhasin is effortlessly charming as Shyam Chaddha. Rajshri Deshpande as Ismat is flawless.
In these times when people who have a voice are threatened and silenced and even killed, Manto is a very relevant film. It takes one back to the part of history that cannot be forgotten and reinforces the value of harmony without actually saying it.
For me, as an actor, my takeaway from film was that I got to observe some of the finest actors bring out the finest layer in their performances.
As a person, the film for me is more than what I can put in words. I was deeply moved and left the theatre feeling stronger—I left feeling that I must include a bit of Manto’s spirit in my life.
(We at Opening Doorz read Ekavali Khanna’s deep insight on her Facebook post after she watched Manto last week. On our invitation, Ekavali, an actor and film enthusiast, immediately agreed to pen down her thoughts on the film for us. Incidentally, What Will People Say, a Norwegian film in which Ekavali has a pivotal role, has been selected by Norway for best foreign-language film Oscar consideration).