Saadat Hasan Manto was an outstanding writer, playwright & author
After reading some of Saadat Hasan Manto's best works (Kali Shalwar, Khol De, Thanda Gosht, Toba Tek Singh), you realise that the man wrote what he saw and knew. There were no layers but the simple and honest truth. He was never afraid to write his mind and thoughts, maybe that's why he was applauded in whatever he wrote.
Starring Nawazuddin Siddiqui in the lead role & Nandita Das on the director’s chair, this film couldn’t have asked for more. Set in 1946, Mumbai (Bombay, back then) we meet Manto (Nawazuddin) and his work; we see how brilliant he is at what he does. Meeting people and gelling down with different personalities in their own way such as being a part of the progressive artists’ movement with Ismat Chugtai (Rajshri Deshpande) or spending hours with the superstar of tomorrow Shyam Chadda (Tahir Raj Bhasin), Manto also shared a mixed relationship with his audience.
Just at the beginning, there's one thing you know of- Manto is a man of many colors and his talent is never at doubt, however, that doesn't mean he isn't self-destructive. His anger and temper flashes are quite well portrayed: Manto is a handful, for his wife, friend and even his constant companion Safiya (Rasika Dugal). In no time comes 1947 and Manto finds himself on a crossroad: India or Pakistan? He doesn't see himself as a free writer anymore and the irony is that India was finally independent, free. With a heavy heart and clear mind, he along with his wife Safiya moves to Lahore, away from his country and best friends.
A different country what everyone called 'home', Manto labeled himself as a ‘chalta-phirta Bambaii’ because he knew that he left his heart in Bombay, in his country! Things were going well and Manto was writing until one of his stories, ‘Thanda Gosht’ ignited a controversy and was charged with obscenity. What happens next is what you have to see and a very few are aware of.
Nandita Das made her debut with Firaaq, which revolved around the after-effects of the Gujarat killings of 2002. The movie is an unflinching look at how religious extremism can damage us from within & she does it again with Manto. She tried to let us in as much as possible in Manto's life; which is why many areas are left half-explored while the others have left you wanting much more. A special shout out to the cinematographer and production designer; Kartik Vijay and Rita Ghosh respectively. From the 50s set, the old local trains to the cardboard tickets and two countries trying to revive themselves, these moments are captured and created perfectly. Honestly, Saadat Hasan Manto was born to be filmed.
You all might be interested in knowing that at the special screening of this movie, Manto's real life daughters were present amongst us. Though we didn't get a chance to ask them but after watching the movie, I'm sure that they would have been shocked by Nawazuddin's amazing and on-point performance. Keeping in mind all the things that we've till now read and heard about the great writer, I am sure that Nawaz is the only human who can get this close to Manto. From lighting a cigarette to just delivering his dialouges, you will be left wanting more of Nawazuddin as Manto.
To understand Manto's friendship and Tahir Raj's character better, please Google: Manto Hiptullah; you will understand their quirky and real friendship better. Rasika Duggal, is a gem waiting to be explored more. She is a sight for sore eyes and her effortless performance is off-the-hook! From the many supporting cast, there will be a few who will stay like- Divya Dutta, Paresh Rawal (Pimp) & Gurdas Maan (Sirajuddin)- impressive and Chandan Roy Sanyal – limited. Wait for Javed Akhtar's eccentric cameo with some thought-provoking dialogues.
Telling the stories that need to be told, Nandita Das has only become better over the years. Her thought and research are very well visible. The movie got the best music by Sneha Khanwalkar and even Faiz did a fantastic job with Bol Ke Lab Azaad. Although, I wish Raftaar's Mantoiyat could have been a part of the movie but I do understand the decision of not including it as well.
Lastly, Manto is a movie about truth and soul. It is a movie which will be liked by a few buyers but trust me, it is surely worth a watch. Watch Manto to appreciate the hardships of a man who chose to portray the truth in his style. SEVEN AND A HALF STARS!