Film Re­view: Manto

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Manto, the film, is based on the life of the now cel­e­brated Pak­istani au­thor Saa­dat Hasan Manto. Di­rected by Sar­mad Sul­tan Khoosat and writ­ten by jour­nal­ist, tele­vi­sion di­rec­tor and hu­man rights ac­tivist Shahid Nadeem, the film of­fers in­sights into Manto’s sto­ries and nov­els. Khoosat, who also stars as Manto in the movie, hu­man­izes the leg­endary writer whose life and strug­gles have cap­tured the imag­i­na­tion of the sub­con­ti­nent for decades.

Set in the 50s, the film opens with Manto’s release from Pun­jab Men­tal Hos­pi­tal. He is al­ready dis­il­lu­sioned by the par­ti­tion and re­sult­ing blood­shed and is shown to be tor­mented by the painful mem­o­ries of his child­hood and time in Bom­bay. He be­gins ex­plor­ing the dark­est cor­ners of the hu­man psy­chol­ogy via his short sto­ries. With sto­ries such as Thanda Gosht and Khol Dou, Manto soon gains a rep­u­ta­tion as be­ing con­tro­ver­sial and is sum­moned to court on charges of ob­scen­ity.

The film is an ac­cu­rate de­pic­tion of a man who is haunted by the sto­ries that de­mand to be told. It moves flu­idly be­tween Manto’s life and his imag­i­na­tion as we see the man be­ing tor­mented by the char­ac­ters in his mind. The film also looks into Manto’s re­la­tion­ship with his wife and kids, and how they were af­fected by his ec­cen­tric­i­ties and ad­dic­tion to al­co­hol.

With a solid and well-writ­ten script, the film man­ages to en­gage the au­di­ence right down to the last sec­ond. Khoosat also dis­plays some fine act­ing skills, do­ing jus­tice to a com­plex char­ac­ter that would be daunt­ing for any ac­tor. He de­picts Manto’s an­guish with­out be­ing overly emo­tional, thus gain­ing the au­di­ence’s sym­pa­thy.

Sa­nia Saeed does a com­mend­able job of play­ing Manto’s wife, Safiyah, even though her char­ac­ter is just shown as a mother and a wife rather than as an in­di­vid­ual. Other no­table per­for­mances are ren­dered by Faisal Qureshi (who makes a cameo ap­pear­ance) and Nimra Bucha who plays Manto’s al­ter ego, the hu­man­ized form of his pain and an­guish and the em­bod­i­ment of his writ­ing process. How­ever, Saba Qa­mar’s per­for­mance as the leg­endary singer Noor Je­han ap­pears to be a lit­tle forced even though she man­ages to cap­ture the glam­orous charm of the singer.

Manto is definitely a film worth see­ing. Saa­dat Hasan Manto’s life story is an im­por­tant one and the film does jus­tice to it. When you walk out of the film, you won’t be think­ing about Khoosat’s act­ing or di­rec­tion. You’ll be think­ing about Manto and will walk away even more en­am­oured with the leg­endary writer, in­spired to read or re­visit his short sto­ries.

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