The first time I came across Saadat Hasan Manto was when I read about his original epitaph which was later changed as it challenged God.
“Here lies buried Saadat Hasan Manto in whose bosom are enshrined all the secrets and art of short story writing. Buried under mounds of earth, even now he is contemplating whether he is a greater short story writer or God.”
Changed to –
“Yahan Manto dafan hay jo aaj bhi ye samajhta hay kay wo loh-e-Jahan per harf-e-muqarar nahi tha (Here lies buried Manto who still believes that he was not the final word on the face of the earth).”
In the large collection of books back at my home there’s Manto’s biography. A few months back, I read a couple of chapters from it that covered his early days of struggle and how he got married.
Ever since Manto, the film’s trailer was released I was naturally intrigued and followed all its promotions. Which includes the 6-minute video on Freedom of Speech, Nandita Das and Nawazuddin on Jashn-e-Rekhta in Delhi, and just before the movie release the video with Unerase Poetry and the one where Nawazuddin enacts Gaitonde-Manto together.
Personally, it has been really long since I looked forward to a Bollywood movie. Closely followed all its promotions and watched it in a theatre as soon as I could.
I must say, Manto didn’t disappoint.
Manto, the film, takes you to the difficult times of partition and turmoil this great nation went through. The movie begins in Mumbai, the city Manto loves so much, where he is based at the time. It covers how the literary genius observed his surroundings and churned exemplary works of fiction. His stories that spoke to and of the society, called the spade a spade, without hiding behind false facades. Bluntly describing what’s there as it is not as seen through the lens of prejudice or bias.
The movie takes the audience closer to know the prolific writer. As it is generally with writers there’re many versions of Manto as well.
Manto, the writer who writes with pencils and yet collects pens. Manto, the Muslim who consumes alcohol without constraints. Manto, who loves Mumbai because it doesn’t ask you questions [ye sheher sawal nahi karta…]. Manto, the broke who refuses to take money because his pride is precious to him. Manto, the father who plays with his two children keeping his dark, realist, borderline pessimistic self aside.
The movie depicts some of Manto’s stories weaved with the ongoing narrative of his life. It is almost like the movie walks you through the truth he writes followed by him bearing the consequences of writing it. The repercussions are personal at times stemming from the apathy Manto sees all around him. Sometimes it is public ridicule like the court case on obscenity or not being able to meet the ends for his family.
Nawazuddin as Manto and Rasika Dugal as Manto’s wife Safia have delivered incredible performances. Nawazuddin without a doubt has given us, which I am sure after many years, will be mentioned as his finest.
“Main artist hoon, ooche zakhm aur bhadde daag mujhe pasand nahi”
Personal Trivia– The film has a short on-screen presence of the eccentric, rules-defying, Manto-like Urdu writer Ismat Chugtai. A couple of years back I attended a play based on Ismat Chugtai’s work. The play was titled – Ismat Aapa Ke Naam. Naseeruddin Shah, his wife Ratna Pathak Shah, and their daughter Heeba performed the play together on stage. It is one of my fondest memories from the time I was frequent to attending Plays/Theatre acts.