Manto, a film by Nandita Das, is a biopic on the Urdu writer Saadat Hasan Manto. Manto lived during 1912-1955. This film depicts his life especially during pre and post-independence days and partition time seamlessly interspersed with five of his most famous and poignant short stories: Dus Rupay, 100-Watt Bulb, Khol Do, Thanda Gosht and Toba Tek Singh. The film narrates his life through these stories. Manto was known to write unpleasant truths of our society, which people generally did not prefer to write or talk about. And his writings made him a controversial writer too. Manto is best known for his stories of partition days which very genuinely covers what people went through those days. Nandita’s attempts need applause for the way she has depicted the various events, its contexts in Manto’s life through his works. Manto was an unapologetic writer and he used to pour his experiences, views in his writings. He had to even face court trials in lieu of the obscenity in his literary works, was accused of writing materials not worth of set benchmark of literature. But Manto believed in what he wrote since his writings mirrored the society. He even wrote about prostitutes, pimps, subversive sexual slavery of women etc. The film Manto begins in Bombay pre-independence and continues to his life in Lahore when he and his family shifted to Pakistan post-independence. The film recreates the old Bombay and Lahore. Kartik Vijay’s cinematography justifies the feel and era of the film. It is painful to watch the film since it covers the reality. The tragedy is that things have not changed much even after seven decades of freedom. Manto’s stories reflect lot of happenings of our today’s society too. Certainly, the feel after watching Manto is that it could have had more depth and coverage of his life, but one would feel the pain, turmoil, the transformations of Manto and his growing sense of isolation during the most definitive period of his life. When Manto in the film feels the pain of leaving Bombay and misses everything he had in India, viewers are bound to feel the same pain and agony. The film not only narrates about Manto in his biopic but through Manto and his stories, it shows the glimpse of the trauma India and Pakistan went through post partition. Even though this biopic leaves one with the feeling of wanting more, but it certainly needs to be watched.
Manto begins with a scene from his story Dus Rupay, where we see a young girl apply makeup before she leaves to be with her clients. Then we see Manto in Bombay, confronting a film producer (Rishi Kapoor) to pay him his dues for the script he wrote. Manto is also seen commenting on Ismat Chughtai’s (Rajashri Deshpandey) writing. Manto is shown to have sharp tongue where he does not refrain from mocking at his best friend and upcoming actor Shyam Chaddha’s smoking cheap cigarattes. Days change, India gets independence but Hindus and Muslims are ripped apart. Manto had to choose to migrate to Pakistan along with his wife Safia (rasika Duggal) and daughters. His life changes in Lahore. He misses everything about Bombay, his friends and his life over there. Manto struggles to come to terms with his new reality at Lahore, he does become addicted to alcohol. The film takes Manto’s story and struggles ahead through his own other stories. Parts of each of the story is filmed with independent set of actors projecting the story of real Manto and his challenges. Manto is shown to be a man who lived for writing. In a court scene, where Faiz Ahmed Faiz defended Manto when he was charged of obscene writing but commented about the standard of his writing not at par with literature, Manto was bothered with the latter more.
Certain dialogues in the film are very hard-hitting. One of the dialogue when he is asked by his wife Safia that why he carries variety of caps (Hindu Topi, Muslim Topi etc.) he says: Jab mazhab ki baat dil se nikalkar sar par chadh jaye to alag alag topi pahanni padti hai.
Nawazuddin Siddiqui excels in the titular character. He brilliantly embodies Manto’s character and brings life to the same on screen. Rasika has given a great performance as Safia. Rest of the characters played by Tahir Raj Bhasin, Shashank, Rajashri Deshpandey had less screen time, but definitely good. Rishi Kapoor, Ranvir Shory, Divya Dutta, Javed Akhtar, Vinod Nagpal, Chandan Roy Sanyal, Ila Arun, Paresh Rawal, Tilotama Shome, Gurdas Mann, Bhanu Uday are also seen in the film.
The music of the film is composed by Sneha Khanwalkar and Raftaar. The music strikes the right chord with the heart. The much famous lyrics of Faiz Ahmed Faiz – “Bol Ke Lab Azaad Hain” is beautifully sung by Vidhya Shah and Rashid Khan. Nagri Nagri is in the voice of Shankar Mahadevan. The lyrics of other songs are being penned by Dibakar Banerjee, Seemab Akbarbandi, Meeraji and Saadat Hasan Manto.
Manto is a film on his life and brutally honest reflection of the society during pre and post-independence days and partition time seamlessly interspersed with five of his most famous and poignant short stories: Dus Rupay, 100-Watt Bulb, Khol Do, Thanda Gosht and Toba Tek Singh. The tragedy is that things have not changed much even after seven decades of freedom. Manto’s stories reflect lot of happenings of our today’s society too. Certainly, the feel after watching Manto is that it could have had more depth and coverage of his life, but one would feel the pain, turmoil, the transformations of Manto and his growing sense of isolation during the most definitive period of his life. Even though this biopic leaves one with the feeling of wanting more, but it certainly needs to be watched.
Rating: 3.5/5 (Good+)