By Martin D’Souza | Opening Doorz Editorial | September 23, 2018
Rating: 5 / 5
The essence: Director Nandita Das needs a standing ovation. Her painstaking work of going back in time to the pre- and post partition days is brutal in its depiction. Even though she lingers only but a moment on a scene, it is enough to understand the viciousness of it all.
His stories are his biopic. The man remains an enigma.
His absolute conviction of what was happening around him and the manner in which he did not mince words whilst expressing himself remain untouched. Even if you haven’t read any of his works or did not know about him, Sadat Hasan Manto comes alive on screen minus the histrionics that usually go with a Bollywood biopic.
For this, director Nandita Das needs a standing ovation. Her painstaking work of going back in time to the pre- and post partition days is brutal in its depiction. Even though she lingers only but a moment on a scene, it is enough to understand the viciousness of it all.
There is this one scene in Lahore where a father is looking for his 18-year-old daughter. He manages to locate her almost lifeless body in a hospital and when the child is coming around her hands reach to loosen the strings of her salwar!
Manto is not only about Manto!
Nandita has woven Manto’s own stories (Khol Do, Thanda Gosht and Toba Tek Singh) into the writer’s biography so seamlessly that you applaud the manner with which she has done this. Through this, she has got in actors for just one scene and all have stood out making an impact with their work. Neeraj Kabi, Divya Dutta, Paresh Rawal, Ranvir Shorey, Purab Kohli, Rishi Kapoor, Tilottama Shome, Paresh Rawal, Gurdaas Mann, Vinod Nagpal, Chandan Roy Sanyal or even Tahir Bhasin, they all leave their indelible mark.
Rajshri Deshpande in the film is an example of perfect casting. Rasika Duggal as Safia is outstanding. The simplicity and grace with which she carries herself is beautiful. Her diction, too, is flawless although it is not an important part of her role. Nandita Das has made every character come alive on screen.
That apart, the aesthetics of this film sets new standards. The costumes, the background score, the era is so beautifully created. The detailing is exhaustive. Whether it is the cut of the salwar, the border of the dupatta to even the Payencha of the salwar (the broad border at the foot), to the way Manto’s kurtas are to what Safia is wearing. Even what is recreated of Bombay is marvellous.
Nawazuddin Siddiqui has this uncanny knack of reinventing himself with every film: he disappears into the character. This is what happens in Manto. He essays the distraught writer to a nicety. From Manjhi to Manto, his transformation is at its peak. There’s no denying the fact that any lesser actor would have fallen short in bringing Nandita Das’ conviction alive on screen: Nawazuddin bares Manto’s soul on screen
“My stories are mirrored for society to see itself,” says Manto. And this truth he brings alive with his writing that most are not comfortable with.
It takes courage to stand up and speak and speak we must. As the end credits roll, along with the riveting music, these lyrics from Faiz Ahmed’s poetry come alive:
Speak your lips are free
Speak your tongue is your own
Your upright body is your own
Speak your life is still your own
Manto makes for a powerful film. Manto is an authoritative biopic.
Footnote: Saadat Hasan Manto (May 11, 1912 – January 18, 1955) was a Pakistani writer, playwright and author born in Ludhiana, British India. Writing mainly in Urdu language, he produced 22 collections of short stories, a novel, five series of radio plays, three collections of essays, two collections of personal sketches. His best short stories are held in high esteem by writers and critics. Manto was known to write about the hard truths of society that no one dared to talk about. He is best known for his stories about the partition of India immediately following independence in 1947.
Producers: Nandita Das, Ajit Andhare, Namrata Goyal, Vikrant Batra
Director: Nandita Das
Star Cast: Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Rasika Dugal, Divya Dutta, Rajshri Deshpande, Tahir Bhasin.
Also Read: Actor Ekavali Khanna’s views on Manto