'Mara Nahin...Dekho Abhi Jaan Baaki Hain, Rehne Do Yaar...Main Thak Gaya Hoon', as Nawazuddin Siddiqui breathes life into Sadat Hasan Manto's words from 'Aaram Ki Zaroorat', it's sheer poetry on screen. Nandita Das' directorial 'Manto' gives us a closer glimpse into the life of the celebrated Urdu writer who found solace in his characters and stories which mirrored the reality of the society.
The film opens with Manto's short story, 'Dus Rupay Ka Note' before bringing us face-to-face with the man himself. Set in the 1940s, we meet Manto (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) as the voice of the voiceless who translates the seething anger and darkness of the human psyche into words on paper.
From a celebrated writer in Bombay to his frailing version who hits the bottle on moving to Lahore post-independence when he finds his wings of 'freedom of creative expression' clipped with his writings being accused of 'sensationalism.' Manto beautifully weaves together the author's controversial works like Dus Rupay Ka Note', 'Khol Do', 'Thanda Gosht' and 'Toba Tek Singh' with his real-life story.
We also get a sneak-peek of his tyrst with Bombay Talkies. Not to forget, his striking friendship with '40s Hindi cinema actor Shyam! Manto and Shyam were chalk and cheese. While one was an introverted intellectual, the other was a boisterous charmer who wanted to make it to the big screen. Watch out for the scene where Manto and Shyam coin the term 'hiptulla'. \
Hours before Manto takes the boat to Pakistan, Shyam and he raise a toast to 'Hiptullah'. This is followed by Shyam yelling Pakistan Zindabad and Manto Bharat Zindabad. A tear-eyed moment, for sure.
Nandita Das dives deep into her craft and blurs the line between fiction and non-fiction in her story-telling to give you an unbiased account of Manto's life. Her writing has dripping sarcasm, irony and black humour. On the flipside, the film drags a bit post the interval and loses its pace.
Coming to the performances, Nawazuddin Siddiqui lends gravitas and sinks his teeth deep into his role to give you a memorable performance. Rasika Dugal as Manto's better-half is in a terrific form while Tahir Raj Bhasin looks confident in every frame. Rajshri Deshpande as Ismat Chughtai is sharp and leaves you in awe.
Actors like Rishi Kapoor, Javed Akhtar, Paresh Rawal, Gurdas Mann, Ranvir Shorey, Ila Arun, Divya Dutta lend a solid impact even if it's just resticted to cameos. Bhanu Uday as 'Dadamoni' Ashok Kumar shows spark.
Kartik Vijay's cinematography is authentic to the period in which the film is based. Sreekar Prasad's editing works in sync. Manto's music touches your soul.
To quote Manto, "In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful, Here lies Saadat Hasan Manto and with him lie buried all the secrets and mysteries of the art of short-story writing, Under tons of earth he lies, still wondering who among the two is greater short-story writer: God or He." Years passed by, but the question stills remains unanswered. I am going with 3.5 stars.