Saadat Hasan Manto was a prolific South Asian writer, in the last century. His stories have always haunted me with their stark portrayal of reality and their deeply probing questions. I had high expectations of Nandita Das’ “Manto”, and this brilliant film far exceeded them.
Manto, a fairly successful writer of Bollywood films; deals with an internal crisis when he feels compelled to leave his beloved Bombay for Lahore, after the partition of India. This existential predicament is reflected in his thought-provoking stories. The film shows dramatizations of these stories seamlessly intertwined with the main narrative.
Nawazuddin Siddiqui in a scene from the film.
“Manto” is more a work of art than a film. While watching the film, I frequently felt as if I was immersed in a good book. The poetic flow of the story adds a distinct dramatic cadence, often associated with fiction. However, the story is real and focuses intently on the wide-ranging insecurities of an artist.
Nawazuddin Siddiqui adorns Manto’s character effortlessly, and he is ably aided by a talented pool of actors. The actors have short scenes, yet leave an indelible mark; much like certain characters from novelized short stories. Nandita Das has chosen her cast well.
The director’s camera chooses documentary-like angles to further dramatize the intense scenes. The sudden transition into the stories, from scenes of Manto’s regular life is sometimes confusing, but signifies the way Manto wrote and lived. As period cinema, it deserves accolades for its accurate portrayal of people, mood, fashion and ambiance. The music is minimal, but effective where it does appear. The dialogue is beautiful, as it relies heavily on Manto’s actual verse.
I found the film visually and dramatically appealing; but I’m aware that its slow pace and sensitive subject will not please everyone. There lies the film’s only drawback- it lacks a mass appeal. Manto’s life story, his struggles as a writer as well as struggles with alcohol and other substances, is rich enough for mainstream cinema; and could’ve been made as a crowd-puller.
If you love South Asian writers, Manto in particular, you will appreciate this film. If you prefer cinema to be entertaining along with being thought-provoking, it may not appeal to you. Having said that, I highly recommend everyone watch this film to learn about a literary master and his evocative body of work.
Film Rating: 4.5/5
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