"Such naked truth, even in its subtlety, is a tight slap on the hypocritical society. And what better way to explore it than through one of the greatest writers of the previous century," writes Nikhat Mahmood.
Bada kambakht hai yeh Manto
Kisi cheez ka lehaz nahi
Sub saaf saaf keh deta hai.
- Madam Noor Jehan, Manto (Sarmad Khoosat, 2015).
Manto a biographical drama film produced by Babar Javed and written by Shahid Nadeem. The movie starts impressively with an intense dance sequence depicting a woman being molested (a recurrent theme in Manto’s short stories). The boldness of the depiction might startle the audience if they're told that the film comes from Pakistan, a nation which is struggling with extremism.
Manto's time was no different. Even after being shunned by the powerful group of progressive writers’ association, he never stopped. He was probably aware of his own greatness as a storyteller. Today, he is largely (but wrongly) remembered as a writer who wrote only on partition and prostitutes. Manto the film, also focuses primarily on this aspect.
The film begins in 1951. The setting is picturised perfectly, with every minute detail well taken care of and splendidly captured. I particularly liked the costumes, especially the white kurta pyjama Manto wears. At the same time, Noor Jehan’s sarees take you back to 1950’s Lahore.
Sarmad Khoosat displays serious skills both as a director and actor, his performance is truthful without being ostentatious. Sania Saeed needs no praise. She wins hands down in every role she enacts, and Safia Manto’s character is no exception. Saba Qamar is as skilled an actress as she is beautiful, and in capturing the glamorous Noor Jehan, she does a commendable job.
Although I guess a Bollywood version of Manto would be technically better, I loved the simplicity which runs through the film. Take for example, the black and white sequences in the movie. The smoky dark scenes perfectly captured the gloom in Manto’s life, his lifelong struggle with alcoholism, constant financial problems, the hurt and humiliation he received from society and his longing for Bombay. Also mention-worthy are his interactions with his inner self, the voice of his stories enacted by Nimra Bucha.
The script is skilfully written, the screenplay adopted from Manto’s short stories; Thanda Ghost, Madari, License, Khol Do and Peshawar se Lahore. Throughout the otherwise emotionally charged and dense movie, the director gives the audience some relief by a comic line thrown here and there, and through some delightful songs. 'Mehram dila dey mahi' by Meesha Shafi (picturised very sensually) and 'Kaun Hai Yeh Gustakh' are truly outstanding.
Towards the end, I felt a little restless as the movie gets too slow, and I was struggling to stay focussed. Perhaps I am an impatient viewer. The movie ends with the death of Manto and a mention of his impudent epitaph, “here (Manto) lies buried – and buried in his heart are all the secret of the art of storytelling.”
'Forever furious' are the words that haunted me throughout the movie. Manto was an angry man. The world generally sees such people as frustrated. Few can understand the anguish, pain and agony of those who feel the need to unleash to the world, the thoughts which might be considered taboo. Such naked truth, even in its subtlety, is a tight slap on the hypocritical society. And what better way to explore it than through one of the greatest writers of the previous century.
Manto is definitely a film worth watching.
Nikhat Mahmood is an English Lecturer, an emerging poetess, an autism activist and a short story writer in English. Her short stories have been published in various anthologies and a children's magazine. Presently she is working on her book of short stories, 'The Scent of Bitter Almonds,' which should be released in 2018. She lives in Karachi with her two children and husband.