Manto is all about the underlying subtext, director Nandita Das thoughtfully articulates the anguish and anger of writer Saadat Hasan Manto. She brings the unspoken thoughts and motives of Manto on-screen by blending fact and fiction. With fiction, she impressively choses to submerge Manto’s five hard-hitting short stories sprouting a seamless narrative for an internal as well as external divide/conflict to unfurl. At trial for obscenity, Saadat Hasan Manto exclaims, “My stories are mirrors for the society to see itself” – Manto was a subtext writer.
Manto revolves around Saadat Hasan Manto’s life pre-Independence (Bombay) and post-Independence (Lahore), the crucial years of his life which covers the relationship with wife Safia (Rasika Dugal), friend Shyam Chaddha (Tahir Raj Basin), India-Pakistan Partition and trials for obscenity over his powerful short story – Thanda Gosht (Cold Meat). Nandita Das inextricably intertwines the torn nature of a country and its repercussions on Manto’s life. “Two caps are necessary- one Hindu and one Muslim because the religion has leapt from heart to head.”, exclaims Manto (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) in a peculiar post-Independence scene which literally reflects the contemporary situation – a claustrophobic political environment which we live in.
Unfortunately, Manto remains as a cinematic understatement; it remains as a vintage series of scenes weaved intricately. There’s a delicate melancholy to the character like Guru Dutt’s Pyaasa (1957) which doesn’t leave a mark – it remains shallow. Even though the screenplay dwells into the conscience, on a whole it’s underwhelming. Bombay portions feel disjointed, maybe it represents the turmoil and the cosmopolitan nature while Lahore portions are seamless and effective – yet editor Sreekar Prasad’s bold cutting merges series of scenes. Cinematographer Karthik Vijay lends a synthetic feel while Production Designer Rita Ghosh mounts a detailed periodical setting. But, the most impressive cinematic addition is sparkled by Zakir Hussain through an evocative and mournful background score.
Nawazuddin Siddiqui in his most compelling role (high debatable) delivers a raging as well as empathetic performance. Rasika Dugal brings warmth and emotional nuances while Rajshri Deshpande in a small role as Ismat Chughtai is effective. Along with a range of actors in minimalistic yet valuable roles leaving a mark – Javed Akhtar, Tahir Raj Bhasin, Gurdaas Mann, Ranvir Shorey, Divya Dutta, Neeraj Kabi, Tilottama Shome, Rishi Kapoor and Paresh Rawal.
Manto is undoubtedly one of the powerful writers in India and Pakistan, and he’s not indebted to a particular country but his thoughts are indebted to millions. Rajkumar Hirani’s mass credibility over Nandita Das’ artistic accessibility draws a line of appeal; Manto is an honest celebration and depiction of Saadat Hasan Manto. It firmly works as a series of subtexts which makes it a compelling and modulating drama but not as powerful as it should’ve been.
Release: 21 September, 2018
Copyright ©2018 Ninad Kulkarni. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.