Manto is one of the bravest pieces of cinema helmed by a woman director. I acknowledge this, since nothing like 'Manto' has been actually seen: it has been made in a way so upbeat, written so beautifully- that you consistently feel its multi-dimensioned resonance.
Nandita Das's 'Manto' is imperfect as a biographical film. Like any other docu-drama about Saadat Hasan Manto's dramatic life, its aspects are all focused on his work, his times and the people who were involved in his life. However, what sets all of them and this one apart is the seamless thread which powers its story-telling, and the smart castinc choice: it has just on-point casting: Nawazuddin Siddiqui as Manto is a unique blend of the cinematic hero ajd a genuine, middle-class men with beauty of words as a profession, Rasika Duggal as Manto's wife is affecting, and there is an ensemble cast with repetitive cameos. Nandita's script is also a joyous period sequence, it disrupts frequently as it also translates Manto's stories to the screens. She tries to echo why in this age, when the movies are going on the less travelled, 'obscene' path, there was a famous, dignified writer who was once defamed for writing obscene stories.
Manto, a film by Nandita Das, is a biopic on the Urdu writer Saadat Hasan Manto. Manto lived during 1912-1955. This film depicts his life especially during pre and post-independence days and partition time seamlessly interspersed with five of his most famous and poignant short stories: Dus Rupay, 100-Watt Bulb, Khol Do, Thanda Gosht and Toba Tek Singh. The film narrates his life through these stories. Manto was known to write unpleasant truths of our society, which people generally did not prefer to write or talk about. And his writings made him a controversial writer too. Manto is best known for his stories of partition days which very genuinely covers what people went through those days. Nandita’s attempts need applause for the way she has depicted the various events, its contexts in Manto’s life through his works. Manto was an unapologetic writer and he used to pour his experiences, views in his writings. He had to even face court trials in lieu of the obscenity in his literary works, was accused of writing materials not worth of set benchmark of literature. But Manto believed in what he wrote since his writings mirrored the society. He even wrote about prostitutes, pimps, subversive sexual slavery of women etc. The film Manto begins in Bombay pre-independence and continues to his life in Lahore when he and his family shifted to Pakistan post-independence. The film recreates the old Bombay and Lahore. Kartik Vijay’s cinematography justifies the feel and era of the film. It is painful to watch the film since it covers the reality. The tragedy is that things have not changed much even after seven decades of freedom. Manto’s stories reflect lot of happenings of our today’s society too. Certainly, the feel after watching Manto is that it could have had more depth and coverage of his life, but one would feel the pain, turmoil, the transformations of Manto and his growing sense of isolation during the most definitive period of his life. When Manto in the film feels the pain of leaving Bombay and misses everything he had in India, viewers are bound to feel the same pain and agony. The film not only narrates about Manto in his biopic but through Manto and his stories, it shows the glimpse of the trauma India and Pakistan went through post partition. Even though this biopic leaves one with the feeling of wanting more, but it certainly needs to be watched.