Film Thoughts: MANTO [India | 2018]

Manto on the outset shows what biopics should be – whether on cricketers, sportsperson or any actor – projecting the psyche of the central character is vital and crucial. Biopics need to stay true to the actual happenings for it’s not a propaganda material rather a documentation in cinematic form. A big round of applause to the gorgeous Nandita Das for not succumbing to the commercial tastes of Bollywood consumers and projecting Manto much like the way Saadat Hasan Manto was – brutal, truthful and unwavering.

"Who am I to remove the clothes of this society, which itself is 
naked." - Manto

Manto – the film, talks about the life and times of the writer when he was torn between religious biases, literary prejudices, between colonial independence and limited freedom for expression, between Bombay and Lahore, Hindustan and Pakistan, between words and wars, and in between life and death. Manto left Bombay at a time when he was much loved and respected among the literary and cine societies – even though reactions against his writings were in extremes. As much empathy Saadat saab had for his characters, that much of love he carried for Bombay. On being asked if he would move to Pakistan, post partition, he would reply negatively saying – if Bombay goes there, he would come following her. Ultimately Manto leaves for Pakistan – a scene that was depicted with lot of poise and character in the film – and most of his aura and charisma gets left behind for Bombay.

Manto in Lahore could never grow out of this pain. But the sharpness of his literary words became more edgier. He was slapped with cases for obscene writing. But what hurt him most was when the people he respected remarked that his writings are not up to the standards of literature. Any creative spirit after all can tolerate all sorts of pain on themselves but not on their creations.

“If you cannot bear my stories, it is because we live in unbearable
times.” - Manto

Manto the person that he was – an independent voice unflustered by critics, it demanded subtle understanding of various nuances to be able to handle such a character. And therefore it will go down as one of the finest performances of Nawazuddin Siddiqqui. He kept the charm of such a radical writer yet lived every moment in the frame as someone who was destined to be doomed in his lifetime only to be resurrected many years later.

Much credit goes to Nandita Das and casting director Honey Trehan for choosing the finest of actors to perform powerful characters in the film irrespective of their screen time. Rasika Dugal was phenomenal playing Safiya Manto – Manto’s wife. Neeraj Kabi, Paresh Rawal, Tillotoma Shome, Ranvir Shorey, Divya Dutta, Chandan Roy Sanyal, Javed Akhtar, Ila Arun, Vinod Nagpal, Shashank Arora, Purab Kohli – these wonderful actors have all left deep footprints between this India-Pakistan narrative.

Manto excels in one particular department also – screenplay. Any biopic to be well made the body of work of the central character should take center stage. Here for a writer his thought provoking writings can be best projected through his own literature. And thus at very important juncture, very intelligently the main narrative meanders into one of Manto’s stories – new characters just enter and leave the frame without any explanation and you are hit hard by their realities. Manto Saab’s depth of writing and understanding of such everyday characters were at a meta physical level. Khol Do and Toba Tek Singh in their visual form hits you the most. The film’s climax makes you want for Manto, feel sorry for his insecurities and empathize with his vulnerabilities. Manto was not a perfect human being and not trying to project so was the best thing the director did.

The color tone and the art decor were impeccable. Music by Sneha Khanwalkar and background score by legendary Zakir Hussain are soulful. Just goes on to show how much the makers valued every aspect of the film.

“Main pencil se likhta zaroor hun par ye mat samajhna ke mit jaega”.
- Manto

Manto delivers some very powerful punch-on-the-face lines. The film is replete with such poignant lines that allows a lot of room for introspection. Unfortunately viewers today are less submissive. The film also reflects how the system and government is always afraid of radical artists for they are the ones who speak about reforms and cultural shifts necessary for progress. It speaks of a time when the minds of individual people used to get hijacked by few vested interests and the society with a myopic vision keeps resisting to new forms by clinging and projecting to certain values and moral obligations, while in reality these same values keep getting violated every now and then. It showed how we are incapable of using our own judgement and intellect and demand a creator to change their narrative/creations to suit public’s taste and standard. Unfortunately the same is true even today.

Manto can only be experienced once again through this film. As Manto on the screen said – one need not join a progressive association to be progressive. It is in our willingness to challenge ourselves and our openness to explore new writings, new images and new forms of art that will define the progressiveness of this society.

The film ends with a defiant Manto staring back at us from the Lahore Mental Hospital, torn across the subcontinent – between his victory and our defeat.

*** Blog Image Courtesy: From the Internet. No intention to misuse or commercialize. ***

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