All stars I approached said no to ‘Manto’: Nandita Das

Actress-filmmaker Nandita Das presumed that there will be “young charming actors” in abundance to play Saadat Hasan Manto’s closest friend and charismatic actor Shyam in her ambitious movie “Manto”, but she says “all stars” whom she approached said ‘no’ for the fear of looking like a second lead.

The talented Nawazuddin Siddiqui plays the title role of Manto, one of the best known South Asian short story writers.

“Intriguingly, all the ‘stars’ I approached said ‘no’ without even reading the script or asking any questions,” Nandita posted on Twitter with a link to a detailed column piece she has penned for

Titled “No Shyam in sight”, the column describes the woes Nandita has faced in casting for the character of Shyam, and how she has more clarity about “the connection between the roles they (the actors) choose and the perception of their ‘worth in the market’ “.

“Between finding less conservative producers and relentless location scouting, there was one problem that I hadn’t quite anticipated — the casting for the charismatic actor and Manto’s closest friend, Shyam,” Nandita has written.

She adds: “Naively, I thought that known young charming actors, wanting to play the layered character of Shyam, would be in abundance. Intriguingly, all the ‘stars’ I approached, said no without even reading the script or asking any questions about the role that was being offered.”

“Their sole reason for declining was that Shyam would be seen as the ‘second lead’. As Nawazuddin Siddiqui, an accomplished actor, is playing Manto, I want to ensure that Shyam is no less.”

Her inference from the experience has been that “the road to stardom is to play the lead, have the girl and be heroic in the climax”.

“I thought I could work around this by offering a credit of ‘special appearance’ or ‘many thanks to’ kind of status, elevating it from what they call a second lead. But to no avail,” Nandita said as she rued that how after 40 films and 20 years of being in the film world, she has realised “how little” she knows about market forces and what drives them.

As an actress, her choices have been determined by other factors.

“For me, the excitement has always been about being part of stories that must be told and the promise of them being well-told. Guess I can only think like myself,” she added.

Filmmaker Hansal Mehta, upon reading the column, tweeted: “I’m almost relieved that I’m not making the Manto film I’d set out to make. Nobody wanted to play Manto. Nobody wanted to produce it.”


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