Poet and author Saadat Hasan Manto was among the bold and fearless writers who wrote mostly about the hard truths of society, things that no one dared to talk about. He is best known for his stories about the partition of India immediately following independence in 1947. He thought way ahead of his times and that is exactly what actor-director Nandita Das’s film Manto is all about.
The film begins with a scene that shows the brutal truth during pre-partition India where a poor father sends his young daughter with unknown men, the little girl comes back by the end of the day and the driver hands her a ten rupee note and she hands it back to him saying, “But I didn’t do anything,” A simple scene yet a scene that makes you sit up. A huge message is given and a whole lot has been said in this small scene. In fact, that’s with almost all the scenes in the film. The whole film has such scenes that make you sit up and think, with equally intriguing dialogues. Nandita Das has chronicled Manto’s emotional turmoil and unrest beautifully.
After the partition, Saadat Haasan Manto leaves Mumbai for Lahore and that’s when the real story of his life begins. The film gives us an insightful glimpse into Manto’s private life. His life as a father and a husband to a supportive wife (Rasika Duggal). What is remarkable about the film is that the 1940s have been brought alive by the director without making it obvious by adding unnecessary props from that era. The characters and the dialogues play a huge part in bringing the Mumbai or Lahore of the 1940s alive.
In those 116 minutes inside the theatre, one actually lives that era and feels the turmoil, pain, financial constraints that Manto feels. It’s as if Nawazuddin Siddiqui was born to play this role. He has got into the skin of the character so much so that you feel that he is Manto! There is no other actor would have done justice to the role.
Nawazuddin Siddiqui has got into the skin of MantoIt’s a rare visual treat to watch such wonderful actors come together to bring a film which could have otherwise been depressing and dark, alive.
The film has one of the most brilliant castings. Right from Rasika Duggal, who plays Manto’s wife, Tahir Raj Bhasin as the superstar Shyam is brilliant and fits perfectly into that old world charm, Ila Arun as Jaddab Bai, Bhanu Uday Singh as Ashok Kumar, Rishi Kapoor as the lecherous producer, Paresh Rawal as the pimp, Tillotama Shome as the prostitute, Divya Dutta as the jealous Punjabi wife whose husband (Ranvir Shorey) narrates the controversial story about raping a corpse, the story that Manto’s controversial story Thanda Gosht is based on and the one he was tried for obscenity six times. Then there is Neeraj Kabi as the man reading the newspaper story about Manto unaware that Manto is standing right next to him, and last not but the least writer Javed Akhtar who makes his acting debut as the character of an educationist.
What I did feel though is that the film was more about the controversy surrounding Manto’s book Thanda Gosht rather than his life. It could have had some brighter moments of Manto’s life. Having said that, the film is flawless. A special mention to the production design by Rita Ghosh and cinematography by Kartik Vijay.
Manto is cinematically brilliant and definitely worth a watch!