I recently watched the movie ‘Manto’ with my family. What an experience! We were transferred to the pre and post-independence era and could empathize with each and every character.
Films like M S Sathyu’s ‘Garam Hawa’ and Govind Nihalani’s ‘Tamas’ were also based on that era and are must-watch movies that will remain in our minds forever. These are not just biographical movies that focus on one particular family but rather take us through the socio-political and emotional turmoil of that era. ‘Manto’ reaches that level.
Being a student of cinema, I have watched a number of Indian as well as world movies. Being an artiste, writer and director myself, I could appreciate the movie even more and I am proud to say that this Indian movie is one of the best ones I have seen so far.
Congratulations to Nandita Das and the entire team. She has excelled and shown her mettle in both writing and directing here. There are many dialogues, sequences and scenes portraying relationships in the movie which have stayed with me; I would like to mention a few here…
On August 15, 1947, Manto, referring to his yet-to-be-born child, says that the child will be born in an ‘Independent India’. The people who have watched or empathize with the struggle for independence will surely understand the importance of being born in ‘free’ India.
Manto’s relationship and attachment towards Mumbai, then called Bombay, is impeccably shown in the movie. When Manto leaves Bombay for the newly formed Pakistan, he remembers that he owes one rupee to the ‘paanwala’. His friend Shyam wants to pay it off but Manto doesn’t agree because ‘Main is shehar ka karza kabhi utarna nahin chahta’ (loosely translated as - ‘I would like to remain in debt of this city forever’). He grieves that he is leaving the city where his family members are buried.
I recently made a short film titled ‘Vaishnava Janato’ in which I have shown how people are forgetting Gandhi ji and his ideas. A scene in ‘Manto’ endorses what I tried to illustrate and brings out the stark contrast between the older and younger generations. In the scene, a Pakistani youth breaks the news of Gandhi ji’s assassination in a derogatory manner. An old man, who still revered and loved the ‘Mahatma’, scolds him for that unlike. The scene hits hard because in the present context, despite sharing the same heritage, neither the Indians nor the Pakistanis have any positive feelings towards each other.
Though Manto was one of the most influential writers of his time, controversies dogged him. He was tried in court for obscenity six times. “If you find my stories dirty, the society you are living in is dirty. With my stories, I only expose the truth,” he had argued. For today’s audience to understand and appreciate him, it was absolutely essential to have his stories in the movie. The director has interwoven a few of his very powerful and landmark stories into the fabric of the movie in an exceptional manner. These stories show Manto’s impressions about the surroundings, the situations, the bitter experiences during partition, the new boundaries, the people and their behaviour. They also display what shaped him and his thoughts, his creative expressions, his ability to drive people to think, his anguish and even his helplessness that broke him ultimately.
Relationships between Manto and his wife Safia and the ‘hiptullha’ friendship between the celebrated writer and the 1940s movie star Shyam are skillfully portrayed. Even a small scene of Manto reading Ismat Aapa’s letter where she addresses him as ‘Manto, my friend, my enemy’, effectively expresses the friendship, affection and the distance between the two created because of the partition.
Kudos to all the artistes for their subtle and realistic performances. Special applause to Nawazuddin Siddiqui (Manto) and Rasika Dugal (Safia). Even the artistes who appear on screen for a short period such as Gurudas Mann, Vinod Nagpal and Rajshri Deshpande leave a mark. Special appearances by popular artistes and writers like Rishi Kapoor, Paresh Rawal, Ila Arun, Ranvir Shorey, Purab Kohli, Divya Datta, Javed Akhtar and Swanand Kirkire take each scene to a higher level.
Passion for the cinema is visible in making of this movie. It’s a true tribute to that era and the rebellious Manto.