‘Manto’, the film, is a narrative of melancholy: the melancholy of a creator, the melancholy of a creation the melancholy of experiences, and lastly the melancholy of Manto. You have read it right, after mentioning the melancholy of different entities here, I mentioned Manto again. That’s actually what the film ‘Manto’, made by Nandita Das, is all about.
When I left my city Kolkata and shifted to Bangalore to study, I was very irritated and down for some days – the happiness of shifting to the new place had vanished, while the sadness of leaving my city had begun to kill me.
Here, Nandita Das did a wonderful job of connecting the city he lives in, with Manto. The relationship between the city of Bombay and writer Manto was so strong that they became a single entity. Bombay was his love, the city which built him, and the city where his father, mother, and son were buried. Bombay, at last, was Manto himself and that’s the magic that Nandita depicted.
What does a city mean to a writer? What does a city mean to a creator? For a creative person, a city means a lot more than it means to a regular person.
Director Nandita Das and Nawazuddin Siddiqui, who played the lead role, felt the importance of a city to the creator.
The small lanes to the posh night parties, the small rooms of sex workers to the film studios, Manto’s life was always beautiful amid the extremes of the city Bombay.
I am not a movie reviewer, neither am I trying to review this movie. But it is a movie which has stories worth sharing. Manto is not only a character in this film but it is about time. In this movie, Manto is all about the experience of one of the darkest times in India. Manto is a phenomenon, Manto is the ego of a creator, Manto is the melancholy of failures, and Manto is a person born in a wrong time period.
The time mentioned here was the time of independence, followed by the division of India and Pakistan. The situation made Manto leave Bombay and shift to Lahore, Pakistan.
But Pakistan was not Manto’s; neither was Manto made for Pakistan. Manto was a man of free thought, Manto was a man of expressions, his words were for the society and his creation was for the people. The hatred, the bloodbath, the deaths, the rapes and the beginning of the end of a civilization were the things he wanted to write about because Manto witnessed those. However, the state stopped him to write claiming his short story “Thanda Gosht” as obscene.
He was stuck between alcohol and himself. He was stuck between time and thoughts. He was stuck between his power and the control of the authority over his power. It is this melancholy of a creator that Nandita Das depicted carefully and deeply in this film.
The director, Nandita Das, has been as vocal as the protagonist of this movie and that’s why she has not stopped herself from telling the story. If Manto was a person of contradiction, then it is the same for the time when he was born and Nandita Das has not missed a chance to portray this fact in this movie.
The film is also very important for the time it is made in. India is now going through a time when the freedom of expression is being questioned by the authority and Manto is the answer to those questions. Creation stays, creation struggles, but creation never dies.
In this film, Nawaz has done the best justice that could have been done to ‘Manto’. His expression, his voice throwing, his attitude, and his eyes have talked about what we wanted to listen. Rasika Dugal who acted in the role of Manto’s wife was wonderful. All the actors in this film have done the best and as required.
The background score and the cinematography will always be remembered. At last, Manto is a masterpiece of a story and storytelling. If you do not watch it, you will miss out on one of the best contemporary movies ever made in India.