“Agar aap mere afsaanon ko bardaasht nahi ker sakte to iska matlab ye zamaana hi nakaabilebardaasht hai !”
Manto – a man who never minced his words. A defiant brave voice who held a mirror to society. A writer who had inexorable courage to expose and explore the frighting brink humanity can reach.
His obvious lack of obsequiousness irked some, but Manto shunned social niceties and smug intellectualism. Instead, through his powerful stories, he reached out to those relegated to the margins, exposing society’s decomposing moral compass. And till the very end, he could not come to terms with the “batwara” or partition that took away his Bombay, his home and his friends.
Nandita Das, in her 112 minutes cinematic tribute to the great writer, delicately and expertly tries to bring alive a tumultuous phase in Manto’s life. His brief stay in Bombay before moving to Lahore, and the charges of obscenity he has to fight against in court for his powerful story ‘ Thanda Gosht!’
It’s an ambitious set-up, no doubt, but masterfully executed by cinematographer Kartik Vijay who paints the frames with sepia-toned nostalgia, thus recreating the 1940s. A man tormented by the horrors brought about by the Partition, we attempt to make sense of Manto through the little snippets of his life thrown our way.
There are so many little gems – his close friendship with the reigning superstar Shyam, his quick repartees with Ismat Chugtai, the trouble he faces while trying to extract money from film producers and magazine owners, his love for his family and the aching loss of what he considered home always gnawing away at his heart.
Das’s screenplay seamlessly stitches together Manto’s life with those of his characters.
Stories such as ‘Toba Tek Singh’ and ‘Khol do’ are woven around the palpable anguish that Manto experiences.
The biggest coup is the casting – Nawazuddin Siddiqui once again effortlessly gets under the skin of the role, his full-blooded commitment to each character truly makes him one of the finest actors in the country today .
As Manto’s soft-spoken and always supportive wife Safia , Rasika Duggal doesn’t miss a beat. Tahir Raj Bhasin as the yesteryear’s superstar Shyam Chadha gives an impressive performance. Equally fabulous are the other actors roped in, literally a constellation of talent that lifts the film.
Most appear in cameos, but are impeccable and supremely effective – right from Divya Dutta, Ranvir Shorey, Shashank Arora, Vijay Verna, Tilottama Shom, Paresh Raval, Chandan Roy Sanyal, to Javed Akhtar, Rishi Kapoor, Neeraj Kani and even a brilliant Bhanu Uday who plays Ashok Kumar.
Some might argue that the film could overwhelm those not acquainted with Manto’s work, but with its evocative portrayal, the film ‘Manto’ will leave you mesmerised, and more importantly will make you want to reach out and read more of him.
It’s an experience that doesn’t get over with the movie and that is the film’s biggest strength. We carry a little Manto in our hearts as we step out of the hall, just the way it should be.
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