‘Manto’, Nandita Das’s biopic that stars Nawazuddin Siddiqui is based on a period in the life of one of subcontinent’s greatest revolutionary writers of the 20th century, Saadat Hasan Manto. Earlier, Nandita wanted to make a film on Manto’s stories. And she did a short film, but it was only in 2012, when a lot was written about him and his essays got published in translation, that she decided to make a film about his life.
Manto was an Indian
On what inspired her to make ‘Manto’ she shares, “His desire to speak truth inspired me. I think all of us will admire this when somebody is speaking for all of us and we feel happy about the person and say ‘dekho kitna bindas bol diya usne’. Manto was that, he was a writer; he spoke his mind through his words and writing.” The biopic was very challenging for her, she relates, “Every phase was about challenges. When I was writing the script, I did research not only by reading books, I met his family that gave me some nuggets, which I didn’t find in any book. Safia Manto’s (wife of Manto) sister gave me all valuable information on Manto’s life.”
The story set between 1945 and 1949, which also includes India, Pakistan partition is a take on the controversial life he led. “Controversial is something provocative but he is somebody whom we are celebrating as a writer. Because of the kind of work, he stood the test of time; otherwise even after 70 years he wouldnt be so relevant. Everything he said is so modern,” she states.
Objection by Censor Board is common for every film, and even this time they removed two words from the film ‘Manto’. “We argued it aloud. One of the board members told me, I am arguing like a lawyer, I said ‘Thanks! It’s all because of you.’ But they really liked the story. First, we are people or human being, then we should wear the hat of a journalist or writer etc. and the Censor Board people must have related it to the film. We only cut the audio part of the dialogues with the beep sound. And we kept it with subtitles.” Not a single video was removed. Are you in love with Manto? “I am in love with the idea of ‘Mantoniyat’. That quality, which all of us have a desire to be more honest and fearless.”