Directed by: Nandita Das
Produced by: HP Studios, Viacom18 Motion Pictures, FilmStoc & Nandita Das Initiatives
Cast: Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Rasika Dugal and Tahir Raj Bhasin
Duration: 1 hour 55 minutes
Bollywood Bubble Rating: 4 stars
In a courtroom scene towards the end of the movie, Nawazuddin (Manto) argues that if a man does not like his reflection in the mirror, it is not the mirror’s fault. Indeed, if Manto is writing about some uncomfortable things that exist in the society, he should not suffer the blame for making his characters like that. After all, the purpose of art is not just to impart moral lessons or alleviate people’s miseries. If Manto wants to tell the stories of people he feels empathetic towards, he has every right to do so.
Nandita Das’ biopic of Saadat Hasan Manto is a well crafted character sketch of a man who is fearless when it comes to standing up for his stories. She does not whitewash the character. Manto is an incorrigible alcoholic who seems to care more about the characters in his stories, than his own relatives (as correctly pointed out by his wife). Even in scenes of extreme distress, Manto doesn’t miss a chance to showcase his proficiency with wordplay.
The film starts with Manto’s life in Bombay, where he is seen exchanging ideas with writers like Ismat Chughtai. He is loved in Bollywood film circles, and finds himself completely at home in parties. He doesn’t direct his writing energies (like a lot of his contemporaries) by writing about the freedom struggle or explaining the plight of mill workers. Instead, he feels strongly for prostitutes who are harassed by men. “If men are allowed to harass women so openly, why is a writer like him not allowed to write about this harassment?,” he says when people accuse him of choosing uncomfortable subjects.
Nandita Das’ direction and Kartik Vijay’s cinematography manage to recreate the feeling of pre-independence era admirably. There’s a scene where India gets independence, and an excited Manto wakes up his wife Safia (sensitively portrayed by Rasika Dugal) to share the good news. It’s a beautiful scene that manages to give you patriotic goosebumps, but at the same time, it does not have an actor delivering chest thumping dialogues (case in point, Sunny Deol in ‘Border’.)
As far as Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s acting is concerned, he embodies Manto exceptionally well. In fact, if you read Manto (which is what we hope would happen) after watching this movie, you’ll probably have Nawazuddin’s face in your head as the writer. To play Manto, Nawaz had to capture his frustration, his empathy, his anger and he captures all of these emotions perfectly.
If you liked the trailer, you’ll like the film even better. Do watch it on the big screens as such movies need all the support it can get.
Watch the trailer here: