In Nandita Dass directorial debut, the stunning “Firaaq” in 2008, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, then raw, wounded and bestial in his rage, played a man being chased by communal rioters during Gujarats notorious 2002 bloodbath.
There was something completely unrehearsed and refreshingly unpolished about Nawazuddin’s indignation in “Firaaq”.
Ten years later we see another actor in Nawazuddin, all prepared, rehearsed and exuding a ruminative dramatic tension as the writer-author Saadat Hassan Manto that the original “Manto” must have felt but never articulated with the precision of an actor who knows exactly how to control the space around him, even when the space is muddled, chaotic and in turmoil.
Of course, the central performance we see in the brief trailer is exceedingly accomplished.
We expect nothing less from Nawazuddin. And with the doyenne of the auteur Nandita Das at the helm we expect sparks to fly.
First of all, the trailer promises incredibly accomplished technical wherewithal. The cinematography by Kartik Vijay and sound design by Resul Pookutty affords a masterclass on cinematic excellence.
Rest assured “Manto” is a film that will transport us into the emotional turbulence and intellectual uncertainties of the time when India was severed into two clumsy halves.
Into the cauldron of friction “Manto” spread his provocative ideas on what violence does to civilisation. He was hated by the authorities and disapproved of by his family. These aspects of his contumacious art are well implanted into the trailer.
The trailer shows a very accomplished supporting cast. The forever reliable Rasika Dugal has some acerbic moments with her husband as she reminds him how his scathing writings damaged their family life.
There are other minor appearances in the trailer by interesting actors like Shashank Arora which I hope will grow into something interesting when the film releases in July.
There is an inbuilt tension in the plot connected with Manto’s scandalous reputation as a litterateur. The trailer taps into that tension but with an austere rigour. But does not tell us anything about Manto’s subconscious repudiation of conventional tropes that we don’t already know.
Interestingly in 2015, Pakistan had made its own Saadat Hassan Manto biopic with Sarmad Sultan Khoosat playing the lead and directing the film. Khoosat’s Manto bears an uncanny physical resemblance to Das-Nawazuddin’s Manto.
The Pakistani film on Manto was very dramatic, very Sanjay Leela Bhansali in its images.
This “Manto” seems far more restrained, not willing to let go. In that sense, the film’s mood is in defiant opposition to its protagonist who was forever outspoken.
By Subhash K. Jha