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‘I earn very little but my income is sufficient to buy a beer every evening.’ This was Manto’s reply to his would-be father-in-law when he met him to convey his desire to marry his daughter, Safiyah.
He would trick his family to get money out from them. He would steal a book from a store and when he got arrested, Manto would scream ‘Inquilaab Zindabaad’ with his hands cuffed which earned him support of many others around him who mistook him as a revolutionary instead of a thief. His close friend from Delhi says, ‘If you’d want to go Japan, he’d convince you to go China, such was his disposition.’
He led his life on his own terms and penned his frustrations with the then prevalent system openly. And as they say, an extravagant creativity flows out of despair. It was this seditiousness which made Manto the step child of Urdu literature as well as the greatest Urdu short story writer of the subcontinent.
It was typical of Manto to be unconventional. So much so, that in his original epitaph Manto had these words engraved:
‘Here lies Saadat Hassan Manto and with him lies buried the art of storytelling. Weighed down by the earth he wonders still: Who is the greater writer, God or he?’
That was Manto. His life was the sum total of incidents like these that have now been captured in Pakistan’s first cinematic biopic feature film encompassing the life and work of this rebellious writer.
Manto, presented by Babar Javed, is a GEO Films Production based on writer Saadat Hasan Manto, played by Sarmad Sultan Khoosat. He was the man behind the timeless drama Humsafar that not only changed the course of Fawad Khan and Mahira Khan’s careers but in a way, also gave a fresh identity to Pakistani television industry. And now, Sarmad is all geared up to show the world his first feature film as a director.
Sarmad himself has been a huge fan of Manto’s work and has read all his stories. He is obviously thrilled to be playing his ‘dream role’. ‘Manto’s stature is timeless, and his genius continues to inspire many generations. We are just trying to reproduce his writings and stories,’ Sarmad mentions in one of his interviews to a Pakistan daily.
Although many of his stories have been adapted for theatre and dramas, the film stands out as it explores the writer’s personal life, which was known to be notorious and full of complexities. The film will showcase certain points in his life, predominantly the post-Partition era that sparked his inspiration and kalam. It also sheds light on the women who influenced him deeply such as Maleka-e-Tarannum Noor Jahan or his wife Safiyah, on the political events that impacted his thought process such as Partition, and on his craft that was deemed controversial at the time. All these events have been captured in the film.
"You’ll see Manto for the human that he was. We have shown his personal life, struggles and suffering in the movie," screenwriter Shahid Nadeem says categorically in one of his interviews to a Pakistani paper.
Yet another talking point of the film is its stellar ensemble cast. Mahira Khan is featured in two stories ---Madar’i (Juggler) in which she plays the role of a monkey master, and Peshwar Se Lahore, where the whole story is beautifully shot in a single song Kya Hoga by Zeb and Ali Sethi with a fun and upbeat tune. Besides Mahira Khan, the ensemble cast includes names such as Sania Saeed who plays Manto’s wife, Sabah Qamar who plays Malika Tarannum Noor Jehan and actors like Shamoon Abbassi, Humayun Saeed, Faisal Qureshi and Azfar Mustafa.
The film has music by Ali Sethi. Aah Ko Chahiye, a version of famous Mirza Ghalib’s ghazal. Also, Javed Bashir’s Kon Hai Yeh Gustakh is soulful captures Manto’s turbulent life.
Nadia Afghan, who plays a very pivotal character from Manto’s very famous story, Aanandi, said in one of her media interactions, ‘A lot of people haven’t read Manto, so I just hope people understand this film the way it’s meant to be. There are lots of films coming out, so I’m just hoping it gets the kind of appreciation it deserves.’
Manto will release in Pakistan on September 11. Based on the response that Pakistani films are generating these days, we sincerely hope for the film to release in the UAE as well.
Sadiq Saleem, a chartered accountant by profession, is a Dubai-based entertainment journalist.