Manto: A Soul-Stirring Biopic Of A Mad Genius
Movie Review by Trijai Nerthi (Rocheston Certified Movie Critic)
Manto is one of those rare biopics that does not delve into melodrama to depict the greatness of the subject it deals with. In fact, unlike many conventional biopics that merely touch upon the life and legacy of the person in focus, the film shines the spotlight on five of Manto’s greatest short stories. In the nooks and crannies of these stories, you will find Manto, his rebellion, his madness, his passion and most of all, his unparalleled penchant for writing. Manto isn’t entirely without flaws, but these flaws easily melt away in a film that is incredibly realistic and unapologetically honest.
Directed by Nandita Das, Manto throws light on the life and works of the renowned Urdu poet and writer, Saadat Hasan Manto. In her film, she takes us through five of Manto’s short stories that invariably demonstrate Manto’s state of mind and his thoughts on the socio-economic crisis that followed the India-Pakistan partition. It also takes us through the eccentricities of the troubled writer’s mind that only found solace in fiction. It intricately highlights the admirable manner in which his stories often mirrored the unbearable realities. Most of all, it captures Manto’s relentless spirit in fighting against the wrongful censorship of his creative works.
One of the foremost aspects you will admire about Manto is how distinguishable it is from the other conventional biopics. A standing proof of this is how naturally it establishes the fact that with every story Manto wrote, he gave away a piece of himself that he would never get back. Most of the other filmmakers would’ve added a dose of melodrama to this fact thereby diluting the true essence of it. But director Nandita Das embraces subtlety and keeps things simple. Gradually, she captures his pain in such a gentle manner that it makes you feel as though you are witnessing his life in person.
Manto will also serve as a harsh reality check. The tragic socio-economic implications that the India-Pakistan partition left behind, is sadly present even today. Till this day, our country hasn’t shed its intolerance nor has it risen beyond the restrictions and confines false devotion to religion brings about. This is what the film describes with such fine detailing. It is especially remarkable in the scene where Manto tells his friend why he must leave for Pakistan despite not being a practicing Muslim. This scene is bound to haunt you for days to come.
This film isn’t entirely without flaws either. Some fragments of the selected stories Manto deals with appear feigned due to the director’s inorganic execution. Sometimes, the film lets go of its true intentions by pointing out the obvious too. But these are forgettable flaws in a film that is otherwise quite moving.
Playing Manto, Nawazuddin Siddiqui delivers one of the best performances of his career. It is such a delight to watch the metamorphosis of such a dedicated actor like him. Unlike many mainstream actors who are aware of the fame that comes with playing a celebrated character, Siddiqui gives us a fresh perspective. He steps into Manto shoes choosing to be blissfully unaware of the feat he has achieved. Instead, he translates Manto’s pain and perseverance onto the silver screen. He beautifully brings alive the madness that drove Manto to choose fiction over reality. With a blend of subtlety and poignancy, Siddique brings Manto to life with utmost conviction.
However, the other supporting actors in the film aren’t as convincing as one would expect them to be. Take, for instance, Shashank Arora and Tahir Raj Bhasin, whose performances appear too put on to be convincing. Though they are fine actors, their portrayals lack the natural effortlessness that their characters demand.
Technically, Manto is quite strong. With stalwarts like Sreekar Prasad in its crew, it expertly mirrors the 1940’s with ease. Karthik Vijay’s cinematography gives us an up close and personal window into each of the characters through devoted visual storytelling that perfectly captures the nuances of the 40’s period. His ability to capture the atmospherics of that period with such visual finesse is noteworthy. Rita Ghosh’s production design paints the locations and background in the film with a sepia tone that captures the story’s essence. Sreekar Prasad’s editing gives the film an eccentric yet subtle rhythm that beautifully defines the character’s personality.
On the whole, Manto is a stirring account on the life and legacy of Saadat Hasan Manto. Just for the subtle manner in which it captures his eccentricities and his views on the socio-economic realities of the partition, this film is a must-watch.