Manto Movie Review Rating: 3.5/5 Stars (Three and a half stars)
Star Cast: Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Rasika Duggal, Rajshri Deshpande, Tahir Raj Bhasin, Paresh Rawal, Javed Akhtar, Shashank Arora, Ila Arun, Divya Dutta, Ranvir Shorey
Director: Nandita Das
What’s Good: The declamatory language used to portray nothing but the truth, out of all the mega budget movies made to show the vintage India, Manto does this best with performances that will keep you hooked
What’s Bad: Amidst juggling various complex issues like freedom of expression, partition & progressiveness – the narration gets a bit dry halfway through the film
Loo Break: If you’re in a movie like Manto, you’ve your priorities set! You’re in either for your love for the man, literature or just because you thought the cinema halls will be empty – in either case you’ll not need any loo break
Watch or Not?: Manto directly aims at a selected group of audience which will not even read my review for watching the film but those who are here – watch it only if you can go through the ill-lighted narrow lanes of Manto’s life
Saadat Hasan Manto – a writer who wrote what he knew and saw, someone who was never afraid to write the truth, someone who infused sensationalism in whatever he wrote. The story starts in 1946, Mumbai (Bombay, back then) and we see how well is Manto doing with his work. Grouping up with personalities like Ismat Chugtai (Rajshri Deshpande), a liberal writer and a superstar of tomorrow Shyam Chadda (Tahir Raj Bhasin), Manto has a bittersweet relationship with his audience.
The communal riots of Hindu-Muslims post the country got freedom Manto question himself. He was no more a free writer & irony is that the country was independent. He alongwith his wife Safia (Rasika Duggal) decides to part his ways from his best friends in India and move to Lahore. While in Pakistan, he labels himself as ‘chalta-phirta Bambaii’ because though he was physically present there he knew his heart was in Bombay. He continues to write and provoke controversies until one day his story ‘Thanda Gosht‘ gets charged for obscenity. What happens next explores the paths of Manto’s life which very few are aware of.
Manto Movie Review: Script Analysis
Nandita Das’ script is gutsy! She has made every possible to attempt to cover every aspects of Manto’s life. Because of this some of them are left half-touched while others are explored so well that you can’t ask for more. Yes, Manto’s story has the elements that makes for a good film but the problem is there are very few buyers for that.
Rita Ghosh’s production design & Kartik Vijay’s cinematography stand out of everything else. The sets are so accurately designed it literally takes you back to the 50s. It’s so fascinating to see those old local trains, the cardboard tickets, those lanes and two countries reviving themselves from a partition. There are many moments that will bring a lump in your throat, especially the stories of Saadat Hasan Manto that are depicted on screen.
Manto Movie Review: Star Performance
Before the special screening started, we got to know how two of Manto’s real life daughters are amongst us. Nawazuddin Siddiqui, at places gets Manto so right that must be a shocker for even his daughters present there. From whatever I’ve read and heard of Manto, I’m sure Nawazuddin is the closest any human, apart from Manto himself, can get to this character. As Manto lights another cigarette, you wish he has something more to say. Manto is one of those rare characters who doesn’t need lines to say something.
Rasika Dugal, a gem waiting to be explored, finally gets her due here. She has got to act for what she’s worth of and she doesn’t disappoint. Effortlessly flawless & powerful performance from Rasika. Tahir Raj Bhasin as Shyam Chadda does a good job. He gets the quirks between Manto and Shyam’s friendship very well. Please read the ‘Hiptullah’ incident (Just Google: Manto Hiptullah) before watching the movie to understand their friendship better.
From the special appearances, the ones that will stay with me are of Rajshri Deshpande – eccentric, Divya Dutta – POWERFUL, Vinod Nagpal (Man in the Toba Tek Singh story) – OUTSTANDING, Paresh Rawal (Pimp) & Gurdas Maan (Sirajuddin) – impactful, Inaamulhaq and Chandan Roy Sanyal – limited. Javed Akhtar’s cameo is very good as even with his limited presence he gets to mouth some thought provoking dialogues. Divya Dutta’s track with Ranvir Shorey is bold & direct. They get to re-create one of Manto’s finest works ‘Thanda Gosht‘. Neeraj Kabi is in his elements but his cameo doesn’t really feed anything important to the story. The actor who plays Ashok Kumar, in order to get his nuances right, goes overboard at times but stay in the limits.
Manto Movie Review: Direction, Music
Nandita Das has always chosen to be associated with the stories that need to be told. From 2002 riots in Firaaq to bringing the legends of Manto on screen, Nandita has just improved over the years. Her efforts were visible on screen with every frame & the years of research she has done for this subject.
Sneha Khanwalkar’s music is apt for the kind of film Manto is. Nagri Nagri brings out the nostalgic essence with even more conviction. Bol Ke Lab Azaad, one of Faiz’s finest works, says everything Manto has believed in life. Sneha brings in both these tracks with equal passion and they go very well with the film. Though I wish Raftaar’s Mantoiyat could also have been a part of the film but I can understand makers wanted to retain the ethos which they built from scene one.
Manto Movie Review: The Last Word
All said and done, Manto is like a whiskey which pures your soul, it might give you a dry mouth afterwards but isn’t that a sign of one fine alcohol? Watch this for brilliant performances, gutsy direction & writing, a never seen before Mumbai and hardships of a man who chose to portray the truth in his style.
Three and a half stars!
Manto releases on 21st September, 2018.