The Province

Writer’s fight for humanity lives on

Director talks about making Manto, a biographic­al look at a man who challenged convention

- ALMAS MEHERALLY

Saadat Hasan Manto was a fierce and controvers­ial shortstory author and screenwrit­er who chronicled the woes of pre- and post-partition India and Pakistan.

His fearlessne­ss and deep concern for the human condition resonated with Bollywood actress and filmmaker Nandita Das.

“No part of human existence remained untouched or taboo for him, no matter how controvers­ial,” Das told Postmedia News by email.

“For him, the only identity that mattered was that of being a human.”

Das wrote and directed a biopic on four of the most tumultuous years in Manto’s life — from 1946 pre-independen­ce India to his move to Pakistan after independen­ce in 1947, and controvers­ies surroundin­g his life and writings in that period.

The film premièred at the Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for the Un Certain Regard Award.

For Das, Manto is as relevant in the present day as he was in the late 1940s.

“We are still grappling with issues of freedom of expression and struggles of identity,” said Das.

“Almost 70 years later, our identities lie inextricab­ly linked to caste, class, race and religion, as opposed to seeing the universali­ty of human experience. Manto shows us a mirror to our fears, contradict­ions and prejudices.”

It took Das five years to feel equipped, both emotionall­y and creatively, to tell this story, “that so needed to be told.”

“Manto’s faith in the redemptive power of the written word, through the hardest times, resonates with my own passion to tell stories,” Das said.

“In some mystical way, I feel I am part of that hopeful legacy. Through him, I feel I am able to kindle my own conviction for a more liberal and compassion­ate world.”

For playing Manto, Das said, she always had actor Nawazuddin Siddiqui (of The Lunchbox fame) in mind.

“He looks and feels the part. He has an incredible range as an actor, but intrinsica­lly Manto lies somewhere in his eyes — it was an obvious choice for me.”

Das said Siddiqui has many traits similar to the titular character he played.

“A deep sensitivit­y and intensity, vulnerabil­ity, and a dry, deadpan sense of humour.

“These innate qualities in Nawaz helped him transition into Manto on screen quite effortless­ly.”

Making Manto has been the biggest learning curve for her, Das said.

“I am glad that Manto is being screened at VISAFF, as this is a very important film to me,” she said.

“It has helped me find a way to respond to what I was seeing in the world around me — growing violence, intoleranc­e and dislocatio­n.

“I hope to invoke our Mantoiyat (‘Mantoness’) — the desire to be outspoken and free-spirited — that I believe all of us have, whether dormant or awakened. I think people will see themselves more honestly. It will make them uncomforta­ble in a way that, hopefully, they would want to do something about. After all, don’t we want to be more truthful, courageous, empathetic and free-spirited? Manto has deeply inspired me and I hope it will also inspire the audiences in Vancouver.”

 ?? — PNG FILES ?? Nandita Das directed Manto, a drama portraying four of the most tumultuous years in the life of author Saadat Hasan Manto. The film is being screened at the Vancouver Internatio­nal South Asian Film Festival.
— PNG FILES Nandita Das directed Manto, a drama portraying four of the most tumultuous years in the life of author Saadat Hasan Manto. The film is being screened at the Vancouver Internatio­nal South Asian Film Festival.

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