Manto Review: Nawazuddin Siddiqui brings Manto to life in Nandita Das' tribute to the legendary writer

Starring Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Rasika Duggal, and Tahir Raj Bhasin in lead roles, Manto is a story about Saadat Hasan Manto, who fearlessly expressed his thoughts that reflect the society

Manto Review: Nawazuddin Siddiqui brings Manto to life in Nandita Das' tribute to the legendary writer

Cast: Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Rasika Duggal, Tahir Raj Bhasin, and others

Rating: 4/5

It has been a few years now that Bollywood has opened doors to many art films, which are high on quality and content. The relevance of the subject and treatment of the film is like by few, but the audience has been accepting the same, and soon shall there be a time when it will get equal importance on screens. One name which I look up to when it comes to such content is Nandita Das, and one name the nation has been looking up to, for his impeccable screen presence since a few years now is Nawazuddin Siddiqui. The two joined hands a few years back to pay a film tribute to legendary writer Saadat Hasan Manto, which after a lot of hard work, releases today.

Set against the backdrop of the pre-independence era, around the 1940s, Manto is the story of a writer who was fearless, open to sharing stories and his thoughts issues related to women. His free thoughts and expression put him in a bad light as many from the literary community opposed his language and work. A story from a bygone era focusing on the basic right to express makes one question if the issue has changed in today’s time. Can one draw a contemporary relevance and presume what would be the result if one would speak openly about their thoughts, issues, system, society and lot more?

It is certain that Das’ and her team have worked really hard to bring forth Manto’s struggle and passion. As time passes by and as situations unfold, one would wonder what would happen to him and his work. Would he be suppressed to speak up? Would he be put behind the bars? Many thoughts take birth, until the climax, where the makers are convinced that come what may, Manto wouldn’t leave his love for words behind.

The film takes you on an interesting journey – from the early times of Mumbai to Pakistan, showing what may have gone through during the British rule, independence etc. The film is divided well into two halves, the first focusing on his struggle in Bombay before Indian Independence, when he was partly successful, and the latter in Lahore, post the Independence, where his struggle gets hard making him alcohol-laden and inquisitive.  Despite a depressing second half, Das’ attempt to introduce Manto to today’s audience is appreciate-worthy, as she attempts to develop a new fan base for the fearless writer. She brings them close to some of his life and to his finest stories by talking (a bit) about Khol Do, Thanda Gosht (which brought him controversy) and the popular Toba Tek Singh.

Characters developed to support the story are interesting, and the casting is commendable. Manto shares a cordial relationship with many in his life. His equation with everyone is different, but he is attached closely to his wife Safiya (Rasika Duggal) and friends Shyam (Tahir Raj Bhasin), Ismat Chugtai (Rajshri Deshpande) and Ashok Kumar (Bhanu Uday). While Ismat and Ashok show support, Shyam is a close friend and well-wisher. Safiya shares all the problems with Manto and goes through them with equal pain. All the actors deliver their best and share a distinguished chemistry with Manto. Rasika’s experience is well used in the film, as she plays a compassionate wife and mother with ease. Her affection towards Manto and his imperfections are well portrayed.

But the man who brings Manto to life on screen is worth a standing ovation. Nawazuddin aces the titular character with finesse. He emotions are relatable and his act only makes you feel terrible for him. Nandita’s choice for Manto is perfect. She not only brought us closer to his life and stories but also gave us a face to relate to. Nawazuddin is impeccable!

Since the film is heavy on content and literature, dialogues have been given due importance. The narrative is supported by many metaphorical thoughts, where the emotions take over with a poetic essence. Lines relating to freedom and the wings of a bird, personification of Bombay, alcohol and its relation to pain, sorrow and heartbreak and many others are beautifully penned.

To sum it up, Manto is a wonderful tribute by Das and her team to the legendary writer. Written with fine details, the film achieves what it desired. It throws light on the struggle to speak free then and makes you think about the freedom of speech today. It’s a treat for cinema lovers, and a film to be remembered always.

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