By Muniyra Douglas
Manto is a biographical film starring Indian actor Nawazduddin Siddiqui as Saadat Hasan Manto. The Indo-Pakistani writer, playwright and author, born in British India, wrote mainly in Urdu, and his beautifully crafted stories garnered him much acclaim – and controversy.
Written and directed by Nandita Das, she seamlessly weaves between multiple narratives and conflicts, relaying Manto’s biography poignantly, while giving life to some of his fictional stories. The transition scenes depicting his life story and his written stories are blurred, so the audience is unaware of when his ‘fictional stories’ begin. It is only when a scene is complete that we recognize it for what it was.
© TIFF Trailers | YouTube
Manto is visually captivating and mentally stimulating. It symbolizes just how much Manto engrained himself within his works. His work is so unique, intricate and full of shadowy figures with even more shadowy backstories.
The film highlights Indian history under British rule and the country’s fight for independence. The historical drama intensifies as citizens become subjected to forced migration and experience religious intolerance. At the center of such violence, Manto was determined to provide a voice for the marginalized and ostracized victims of socio-political rejection. His stories, often touching on sensitive themes of violence and sexual exploitation, were brutally honest and colourfully detailed. These same writings would find him put on trial for writing “obscene” literature on several occasions.
Just a little over an hour and half, Nawazduddin brings Manto to naturally blending his charm, wit and dark humor. The actor embodies the author with very little effort of trying or over-acting. Manto’s obsession with writing the truth can be remembered in this statement:
“If you cannot bear these stories then the society is unbearable. Who am I to remove the clothes of this society, which itself is naked. I don’t even try to cover it, because it is not my job, that’s the job of the dressmakers.”
Controversial or not, Manto was determined to write what he witnessed and was completely unapologetic. His writings were a mirror for Indo-Pakistani society and he would often focus on women, highlighting prostitution and sexual slavery.
Fore more insight on Manto, see the Q & A below:
© TIFF Talks | YouTube
Nandita candidly depicts the ups and downs of author’s life, including his slow downward spiral into alcoholism. Throughout the film we witness the titular character in considerable denial towards his drinking. An ugly truth that eventually consumes Manto and begins to affect himself and his family, but surprisingly not his writing.
*Editor’s note: Manto was screened at the Toronto International Film Festival ‘18.