Film Review: Manto
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.