Bringing forth the personality of one of the most celebrated Urdu writers Saadat Hassan Manto, Nandita Das gives something that Hindi cinema will always take pride in
The first question you ask after watching Nandita Das’ Manto– what took Indian filmmakers so long to come up with a biopic on this man? The beauty of the film lies in the answer to this- there couldn’t be a better time than this to actually tell the country about a man so progressive and free in his thoughts- something that stands debatable in the socio-political scenario of the country today.
At a time when India is on the verge of getting independence from the British Raj, a free spirited writer Saadat Hasaan Manto in Bombay struggles to convey the harsh realities of the societies in a hypocrite environment.
The film begins and ends with reconstructions of two of Manto’s short stories. While the opening sequence fills you with disgust, the closing sequence wrenches you. It is scenes like these that make you fall for the film at first sight.
The story by Nandita Das herself is so appealing that everything that is shown captivates you giving you an experience you’ve never had before. First, the man it is made on- Manto- a symbol of freedom of thoughts, a poet, and writer. You need to appreciate Das for incorporating the facets of Manto’s personality into the script and keeping the film and its narrative structure true to the persona of Manto. Watching Manto is like reading a literary piece page by page where you are immersed in an altogether different world.
Yes, its not a film for all. Given this notion, it would be hard (read: impossible) to find any cinema or literature lover who wouldn’t fall for this film. With what can be termed as a unique cinematic experience on celluloid, Manto in its 112 mins sucks you in completely.
Its an account of about three years in the life of Manto- 1946 to late 1948 where a lot of Manto’s writings were caught with controversies surrounding obscenity. This was also the chaotic and transformational period for the country and the birth of Pakistan.
Bet. There are so many instances in the film where you wish you had a rewind button. The dialogues and scenes are so brilliantly penned and executed and are so deep and philosophical; chances are you’ll miss the next scene thinking about what the character said and meant in the previous one. There are clever one liners and some mind blowing shots that require you to pause, study, and analyse to get the complete feel of it. Its symbolic, poetic, philosophical, to the highest degree possible.
With references and mentions of Ismat Chughtai, K Asif, Ashok Kumar, Naushad, Jaddan Bai, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, and many more, the film takes you to the era getting you nostalgic about so much that was happening in the country, and not just Manto’s life per se.
Only thing where the film falls a bit flat is how partition period is given so much impetus in the writing as opposed to Manto’s mental space otherwise. To come to think of it, partition does have a major impact on his writings and thoughts, but you are left unsatisfied as you would have wanted more of him, his formative years, his heydays, his life after he was left devastated, and a few more details surrounding them.
If you thought Gangs of Wasseypur, Manjhi The Mountain Man, Kahaani, Sacred Games or any other was the best or noticeable work of Nawazuddin Siddiqui, think again. The man seems to challenge himself with every passing film. He’s redefined himself, reinvented himself. Not in a single frame do you see the actor. What you see is the character. He comes across as a performer out there to rule and own you. Undoubtedly, this is Siddiqui’s one of the best acts so far.
Rasika Dugal as Safia is marvelous. In a restricted act, she rules the role. You can’t imagine any other known name or even a more seasoned actress in her place.
Rajashri Deshpande as Ismat Chughtai is very relatable. Tahir Raj Bhasin is very good too as Shyam. He has a strong role and a confident appearance on screen.
Paresh Rawal, Rishi Kapoor, Ila Arun, Tilotama Shome, Ranvir Shorey, Divya Dutta, Chandan Roy Sanyal, Javed Akhtar among several others have made a lasting impression even in the brief screen time allotted to them. Kudos to strong characterization.
Music by Sneha Khanwalkar is good, could have been better. The composition of Bol Ke Lab Aazad is heart warming. Background score by Zakir Hussain is clap worthy for it raises the feel of the film one notch higher.
Cinematography by Kartik Vijay should be applauded to no limits. Not only does the camera transport you to 1946, the clever framing and intelligent shot composition has a lot to say, something that requires an independent separate viewing. Its because of the camera also that the film becomes an enriching journey.
Editing by A. Sreekar Prasad is fantastic. The flow of the film, regular reconstructions to complement the writing, and taking the cinematography to another level is done with immense thought.
Production design- one of the most difficult technical department here- by Rita Ghosh is to die for. Hats off for creating a space bygone with so much sincerity.
Enjoyable narrative structure, impeccable writing, fine execution, smart technicality, deep dialogues, mesmerizing symbol isms- are all what the film carries with great pride. Nandita Das, take a bow for bringing a film on a man who needs to breathe today.