There’s Only One Manto. He Belongs To All.
Even The Unwanted
A magical mystery tour into the life and works of writer Saadat Hasan Manto who was born in British India, moved to Pakistan after the Partition and yet lived for Bombay that was in his heart. Manto was an iconoclast and his anguished life celebrated the vile and the forgotten. This film neatly weaves the stories he wrote into the life he lived and leave us wondering: is he the better storyteller or is God? Not commercial at all, but what a brilliant cinematic experience.
Nawazuddin Siddiqui plays Saadat Hasan Manto, a celebrated writer of his time (and ours), quick to anger, but his observations about the life around him, the Bombay he lived in right before India gained independence were faultless. He laughed at progressive writers who wanted him to write about hope when all he could see and feel the pain of the prostitutes, the men who could trade honesty for a bottle of alcohol and the reeking humanity that had given up on life.
He loved Bombay for what it was: the glamour and the intellectual give and take with famous writers like Ismat Chughtai, singer Jaddan Bai, actors Ashok Kumar and his best friend actor Shyam. All shown in delightful cameos. In the film, the period costumes and the settings feel so authentic, you are automatically transported to the time.
The short fused Manto realises that his best friend Shyam, has spoken the truth in anger: I could kill you too. He packs his bags and leaves for Lahore, and no matter how much Shyam apologises, Manto knows that the divide between Hindus and Muslims cannot be filled.
Rasika Duggal, a fine actor, plays Manto’s wife Safiya with so much gentleness you are torn between the brilliant alcoholic writer and his ever supporting wife. Nawazuddin is acknowledged even in Pakistan, but his heart remained in Bombay. This tore him apart. And the more he witnessed the aftermath of the Partition, the darker his writings became. Nandita Das has made excellent directorial choices in the film, whether it is with the cast or with the writing. Zakir Hussain’s music is haunting. Yes, including the most popular of his stories in the film is like taking the easy way out, but the result is fabulous two hour watch.
(this review appears on www.nowrunning.com)