April 2015, Burqa Darhi Mooch, geo television, Kal Saveray Jo Aankh Meri Khuli, Letters to Uncle Sam, Mahira Khan, main manto, Manto, Mohammed Hanif, Raees, Saadat Hasan Manto, Sarmad Khoosat, Shahid Nadeem
We can’t wait for this….
Pakistani production simply titled Manto, is scheduled to be released after the cricket World Cup sometime in April.
Written by renowned Pakistani writer and theatre personality Shahid Nadeem and directed by and starring television actor and director Sarmad Khoosat, Manto maps the seven tumultuous years the author spent in Pakistan before he died in 1955. Nadeem’s Ajoka theatre group has staged several productions based on Manto’s writings, some of which were considered so scabrous as to invite official censure. These include Akhri Salute, Titwal ka Kutta, Naya Qanoon, Sahib-i-Karamat, and Toba Tek Singh.
Kaun Hai Yeh Gustakh was produced for the author’s birth centenary [in 2012] and performed in Pakistan as well as in Delhi. “The response to the play in Lahore and Islamabad was extraordinary; enthusiastic and moving,” Nadeem recalled in an email interview. “But the response at Akshara and JNU [Jawaharlal Nehru University] was incredible: people were crying and clapping and hugging each other after the show. Manto once again defied censorship and united Indians and Pakistanis.”
Manto was born in Ludhiana in undivided India in 1912, moved to Mumbai in the mid-30s, where he wrote short stories, film scripts and dialogue, and relocated to Lahore in 1948 after the Partition. In Lahore, he wrote newspaper columns and some of his best-known stories, including Thanda Gosht and Toba Tek Singh, while nursing the bottle and appearing in court on charges of obscenity. The movie depicts Manto “grappling with personal and political crises, which impact his writings and his emotional balance” and dealing with “harassment and persecution by a conservative establishment, court cases, antagonism of the right and the left and his inability to support his wife and three daughters”, Nadeem said.
A movie about Manto’s final years in Pakistan seemed natural, but the scope of the project was so immense that it was originally destined for television. Geo Television, one of Pakistan’s leading television networks and film producers, originally planned a 20-part series titled Main Manto, but later decided to extract some of the material for a big-screen treatment. Main Manto will be broadcast after the movie’s release.
“Manto has a huge cast, and the main bank of actors is from television,” Sarmad Khoosat said. Some of the performers will be familiar to the legions of Indian fans of the Zee channel Zindagi, which airs Pakistani television series. Mahira Khan, the star of the soap Humsafar and the lead opposite Shah Rukh Khan in the upcoming crime drama Raees, is a part of Manto’s cast, as is Imran Abbas Naqvi from Mera Naseeb. Saba Qamar, from the show Maat, plays Noor Jahan, the legendary actor and playback singer who was among the several celluloid stars profiled by Manto. Some of his stories have been included in the narrative as well as in the songs, which have been written by Mohammed Hanif, the author of A Case of Exploding Mangoes.
Manto movie still courtesy Geo Television
More than a scandalmonger
Khoosat says he readily agreed to act in and direct the project when he was approached by Geo Television and Nadeem. “Literature is becoming redundant for people, and they have no connection with Manto,” Khoosat said in a telephone interview. “They associate his name only with scandal.” He had to base his performance on scant evidence. There is no trace of the movies Manto wrote while in Mumbai, and few photographs and articles exist. Manto’s daughters were very young when the writer died of alcohol abuse at the age of 42. “Their memories are fuzzy and jumbled up,” Khoosat said. “Eventually, my characterisation is based on whatever I could gather from his work. I do know that he held his posture in a certain way.” Manto said about himself that he perched as a hen would on his chair when he wrote. So will Khoosat.
The director has, however, stayed away from replicating Manto’s reportedly thin and squeaky voice. “I didn’t want to go the way of Capote,” he said, referring to Philip Seymour Hoffman’s performance as the American writer Truman Capote in the biopic. Other Manto quirks remain – his borderline neurotic obsession with clean hands and feet, his white kurta style statement and his preference for writing with small pens or sharpened pencils.
Khoosat emphasised that the movie is an interpretation rather than a faithful retelling of the writer’s twilight period. This is Manto as “angry and defiant”, said Shahid Nadeem, a man who “refuses to bow before the custodians of morality”. Much is made of Manto’s ability to push the boundaries of convention and decency in his writing, but there is more to him than shock and controversy. “Manto was a man of great vision and courage,” Nadeem said. “His boldness, which landed him into a lot of trouble with the courts, censorship authorities and right-wing (or even left-wing) writers/critics was his response to a hypocritical and corrupt society. He was a very sensitive and creative writer and his stories on the prostitutes and pimps and the horrors of Partition are written from a humane and compassionate point of view.”
Manto was ahead of the curve in terms of his adopted country’s political future, Nadeem added. “I was struck by Manto’s political foresight, which are evident from Letters to Uncle Sam, Burqa Darhi Mooch and Kal Saveray Jo Aankh Meri Khuli,” Nadeem said. “He could see where Pakistan was heading to, the total dependence on American aid and the rising influence of mullahs. Yes, his language is very simple but yet has layers of meanings, his themes are as relevant today as before. No writer went so deep into the lives of the scum of the earth and with such tenderness. He not only speaks for his times but for our present and perhaps the future.”
There is a faint possibility that Manto might release in Mumbai, given the fact that Geo Television has previously released its movies Khuda Kay Liye and Bol in India. “The kind of genre we have dealt will have an audience in India for sure,” Khoosat said.
Manto has followers among fans of biopics, lovers of literature, and adherents of the values of tolerance, multi-cultural understanding and humanity that he espoused through his writing. The growing and competing number of English translations of his works is but one sign of the healthy Manto cult in India. “Manto cannot be tied down to one place, as is evident from his ever-growing popularity in India and recognition in other countries,” Nadeem pointed out. “In fact, Nandita Das’s movie and our movie complement each other and can become a double bill.”