Six months back I heard that Nandita Das was doing a movie on the writer Saadat Hasan Manto. I waited for so long for the movie ‘Manto’ to release. A writer who has always fascinated me with his bold and brash language, choice of subjects, characters, expression and his rebellion. Manto is not easy to read, nor is the movie to watch. The writer pierces and pricks like a pointed needle to our conscience, questioning us about the hypocrisy in society we live in.
The façade of the so called progressive writing, romanticism is ripped apart with his thoughts that heckle and anger him. The hope that is presented by the romantics, which doesn’t exist didn’t fancy Manto. He was interested in presenting the world and its truth just as it exists without adoring ‘hope’. So, why is writing the truth so depressing?
“Neem ke patte kadve hi sahi, khoon toh saaf karte hain” (dialogue in the movie).
A writer cannot sell his soul to write hope that he doesn’t see, that doesn’t exist and cannot write words to please people. A writer is no trader in words, he is the one who has to unmask the truth, shed light on it and make the readers aware of it.
Manto was so baffled with reality that it oozes in his words flowing out of a conscience that remained true till the very end. He didn’t intentionally baffle his audience / readers, he wrote what he absorbed, what he saw, what shook him and his conscience. When a writer pens his thoughts, he has to be honest and truthful.
Manto ( in the movie) looked happy in Mumbai, enjoying the company of great writers and actors. He seemed to be impulsive and strong headed. Ismat Chugtai, the feminist writer held a special place in his life. Mumbai meant the world to him. But, during the partition, the situation worsened for Muslims and for Hindus equally. Shook by the partition and plagued with insecurity, he migrated to Pakistan. It looked like Manto could never come to terms with his separation from Mumbai. He was a bird whose wings where cut once he crossed the borders. Partition a purely political move shook him completely. Not able to endure the pain of separation, he sulked and drowned himself in liquor and smoke.
He buried under the depressing state of affairs post partition but, his words never failed to cut through the reader’s conscience. Manto was drawn to court on the charges of ‘obscenity’ and couldn’t cope with the limited literary knowledge of the people who accused him.
While absorbing popular writings with no intellect or literary value, the society isn’t troubled so, why do we question when truth is presented in its naked form and why is it labelled as obscene? Perhaps that is why our so called ‘sophisticated society’ finds nudity vulgar.
Manto spends considerable time and money fighting his battle in court, putting across his point. He rightly said- no form of literary work can be judged based on few words or sentences. Every writing has a context and literary work of a writer should be considered and read in its totality. He was fined heavily by the court and this shocked him. Surviving on monetary help from relatives and well wishers the fine amount was impossible to pay. This drew him to the extreme addiction and he died at the age of 42 years.
The best part of the movie is how the director and writer Nandita Das has embedded Manto’s stories in the movie. It justifies the writer’s stand that he wrote what he saw and experienced. The movie captures Manto’s life in the most befitting manner. Nandita Das, Nawazuddin and the entire cast and crew of the movie has been successful in deciphering and expressing the intensity of Manto, who spilled his pain through words.
No one other than Nawazuddin can be ‘Manto’ on screen. Nawazuddin is oblivious of the camera, he is so immersed in Manto that he is never distracted- with extreme focus on his character he has lived Manto.
A special mention of the costume designer- Sheetal Sharma who has represented the era through the costumes with minute details, so have the art directors Rajesh Choudhary and Prashant Parab.
I saw the movie at Carnival Cinemas- Sangam, Andheri -East and as we entered there was not a single poster of the movie -‘Manto’, nor was it displayed anywhere. It certainly needs visibility – but great movies more often don’t get that visibility and audience is often fed with mentally under-nourished movies.
Insight: May it be Bertrand Russell giving an honest opinion about prostitution and marriage or Friedrich Nietzsche on religion, honesty has never been digested in its true spirit by the so called guardians of the society.
But, by making a movie like Manto the team has once again questioned the validity of moral values that we blindly practise and uphold.
The movie is an honest attempt true to the spirit of the writer.
© Copyright 2018 Rashmi S. Malapur All rights reserved