Actor-director Nandita Das's Manto, the film that took a bow in the Cannes' Un Certain Regard section this year, was screened in the AKSB auditorium on Thursday afternoon at the Dhaka Lit Fest (DLF) 2018.
Inspired by the life and writings of the Indian-Pakistani writer of the 20th century, Saadat Hasan Manto, the film has been well-received at both festivals and theatres. It is the second feature film by Das, who is known for her well-sketched portrayals of politically conscious stories. Her first film as a director was Firaaq (2008), which was set one month after the 2002 violence in Gujarat, India.
Manto portrays the four crucial years of the Muslim writer's life from 1946 to 1950. The timeline is also significant because it follows the Indian independence from the British rule and the Partition of India and Pakistan, which resulted in the killing of over a million in religious riots and displacement of about 14 million Hindus and Muslims of the country. Manto was heavily depressed and perplexed by the situation. Many of Manto's violent stories sprang from the horrors he witnessed during the Partition. The film also sets the background to his heart wrenching decision to leave his beloved Bombay and move to Pakistan.
After the screening, in the director's cut session with Annie Zaidi, Das shared some insights of the film and her hopes. She used the term “Mantoiyat” which was coined by Manto himself in one of his essays. “Through the film I intend to spread Mantoiyat, which means to have the will to be more honest, courageous and free spirited,” she expressed. “It also gave me an opportunity to respond to what is happening around us.”
She also spoke about the casting process for the film. Noted actor Nawazuddin Siddiqui, who plays Manto, resembled the writer astoundingly on screen. Das revealed that she chose Siddiqui because his eyes matches those of Manto. She also said that it was quite a challenge to cast the right person for the role of Manto's wife, Safia, before the team came across actor Rasika Dugal, who she feels gave a brilliant performance.
The intertwining of the writer's biography and his creations along with Das's finesse as a director came through beautifully in the film. According to Das, it was important to add the stories of Manto in the film so as to bring out the man behind it. However, many fans of Manto have commented that the film is far from the gruesomeness portrayed in his writings. Dhaka is the first city to have a public screening of Manto.