Koimoi Recommends Manto: I was 16-year-old when I first read Toba Tek Singh, I was shattered. Nawazuddin Siddiqui starrer Manto, directed by Nandita Das weaved with the depiction of his 5 short stories gave me an entry into Manto’s world and I am thankful. This week on Koimoi recommendation, we recommend you the man who history calls way ahead of his times, his work relevant even today, and his love for Bombay that never left his heart till the moment he died.
Director: Nandita Das
Available on: Netflix
Based on the controversial life of Sadat Hasan Manto, the film follows the journey of the celebrated writer who was known for showing the mirror to the society in the boldest way possible. It showcases Manto’s journey from the pre-independence era to the time after it was achieved and the writer had to move to Pakistan where is spent his years dreaming of his beloved, Bombay.
Director Nandita Das as told by her, lived and breath with this subject for over 6 years and her love and detailed research of the same can be seen translated in her project.
Here is a man who writes about prostitutes, because he thinks he can be their voice as no one wants to be one. He is angry, collects pens but prefers writing with a pencil. Egoistical, not welcoming to criticism and has a wit that would work like weapon need be. But the rebel inside him is only limited to the paper because when he sees girls being exploited by a producer (played by Rishi Kapoor) in front of him, he ignores it as if nothing really happened.
Such was Manto, a man so complex yet so intriguing. His obsession with his muse, here Bombay was unthinkable. The film talks about two phases, a sepia soaked Bombay of the pre-independence and the freshly separated still coming to terms Lahore, that accommodates a writer wandering and marinating in his grief of getting separated from his muse.
Manto, when has to move to Lahore, goes the self-destructing way in the memory of his muse. In a scene he says, “Ye Sheher Sawal Nahi Karta,” and tells a lot about the city that accommodates all.
More than the turmoil around him, the film focuses on the turmoil inside him. His madness is not shouting out loud or killing people. Rather is descent is self-destructive and inside his head.
The film is a double treat, Nandita Das while taking you on a journey in Manto’s life, also shows you five of his most popular short stories. Namely 10 Rupaye, 100 Voot Ka Bulb, Khol Do, Thanda Ghost (the most controversial) and Toba Tek Singh. By the time you reach the last one, you see Manto has gotten one with his characters. They are no longer different from what this man is but they are his present state of mind.
With a huge platter of cameos including Purab Kohli, Swanand Kirkire, Javed Akhtar, Paresh Rawal, Tillotama Shome, Gurdas Mann, Divya Dutta, Ranveer Shorey, Rishi Kapoor, Atul Kumar, Neeraj Kabi, I won’t be shocked if I might I missed a few even after watching it thrice.
Yes, the film does have flaws, but it deserves to be in your watch list to see how Nandita though being invested in this story for years is not biased towards Manto. His wife Safia, played by an amazing subtle not OTT for even a moment Rasika Duggal is a reminder that though a celebrated writer, but the man wasn’t an ideal husband.
While Nawaz and Rasika are gold in their performances, the film rides high on its supporting cast. An effortless Rajshri Desoande who plays Ismat Chugtai, Manto’s man Friday, Udhay Ban Singh and Tahir who play Kishore Kumar and Shyam Chaddha are nuanced. It is refreshing to watch actor not mimicking the yesteryear veterans but following their mannerism in a measured proportion.
All in all, Manto is a treat and an eye-opener served together. Also isn’t the confusion of where we actually belong a relevant conversation today? Just saying. Watch Manto for the remarkable acting by Nawaz, the story of a man that received his credit too late, a mind that was so one with his characters that they spoke on his behalf and the love for a city that he called his everything. We Recommend Manto completely.
“Main vahi likhta hun….Jo jantaa hun…..Jo dekhtaa hun…Main toh bas apni kahaniyon ki ek aaine samjta hu…Jisme samaaj Apne aap ko dekh sake” – Manto…