Manto: A film with a difference

Radhakanta Barik

Saadat Hasan Manto was a Pakistani writer, playwright and author born in Ludhiana. Over a decade people in India have taken a keen interest in the stories of Manto. Dramatists in National School of Drama stage his stories in the form of plays which had a wider appeal. Historians working over the partition have taken his stories to explain the collective memory regarding tragic event in our society and history. Literary critics have taken a serious note of his contribution to literary world. In the literary history Manto’s place has been reintroduced. As literature is about social experience rather than a country or a nation for which it is called literature which is meant for the welfare of people. That is why in Indian language it is called Sahity or Sama plus hita which mean it is for all. Nandita Das has fulfilled the gap in the film making by reintroduction of Manto into the Bollywood where Manto some years of his creative world.

 The film has provided a depiction of a story writer as a hero through his stories.The story writer faces a challenge in his or her life to portray his experiences in a story. Experiences may be personal or external to his world but touches his heart.   This is very much an interesting experiment in the Hindi film world. The story writer is the subject of the film and his stories are the major theme of the film. Two subjects are interconnected in an interesting narrative. This narrative itself is carrying the various moments of Indian history around the partition.  Manto’s has two worlds: one in India specifically Bombay before the partition. There is another world after partition that is Lahore, a part of Pakistan. In these worlds experiences are different in nature. Before the partition the Bombay is an artistic and working-class city. Many intellectual and ideological currents are embedded in the city. The space of the city provides space for these artistic groups thrive. Many of these groups are closely associated with the film making as the Bombay draws the artists, writers, lyricists, musicians and film makers and actors. Such a great congregation happens in the city. The city provides them livelihoods and space for flowering their creativity. This is the beauty of the city. Manto is a loner maintaining a distance from all groups and standing as an important story writer in this world.  He lives in the city around the lane where prostitutes live in.  He writes a major story 10 Rupey which has not ignored by all the artists and each intellectual group. Some of them tell him, ‘why is writing a story about prostitutes no other social groups.This is the story writer’s freedom to make a choice. Manto writes in his own way without pressurizing by any group and enjoys his freedom.  His pen and liquor bottle both go together. Freedom to drink and to produce a story make him busy.  Ten Rupey plays an important role in every body’s life of India in those days and today. This note of ten can provide you a drink or a meal or a fuck. The young girl who is pushed to three customers by his father and enjoys giggling and dancing with them. They do not have a sexual relation with her but offer her a ten rupee note. She is an honest person for which she returns back the rupee to them. Honesty can be a value of any body and any profession including prostitution.

 There are two great moments in the narrative as one moment when the two friends each belonging to different religions holding a drinking party over the Pakistan zinabad and Hindustan zindabad. This moment clearly shows that post partition political scenario in Pakistan were not clear. When Manto left his favourite city Bombay where he grew as a writer and film script maker which was possible because of the nature of the city. He had friends within the film world such as Ashok Kumar and others who were ready to support him in his financial crisis. In another city which was devastated by the partition itself had not recovered when he reached there. The camera is moving over the broken houses and street is not organized one. In the street has turned into a dustbin where the photograph of Jinnah is lying. The street of Lahore shows the future of the political pyramid which is going to come up. Jinnah’s idea of secular and liberal state already got disintegrated. It led to an authoritarian political system where the civil and military bureaucracy dominates. This reflects in the court room where the police men tell that Manto’s story is against the Pakistan culture and represents obscenity. Definition of culture has not come from the writers and artists or the cultural workers but bureaucrats.   His story Thanda Gosht remains as the classic where the story writer faces the challenges from the publishers and editors and the Pakistan state. The editors and publishers refuse to publish his stories further and the state wants to make a case against him under the penal code. In the process he confronts the reality of a society and state on one side and on the other side his family front where the financial difficulties create problems for their everyday life. He requires money for treatment of his child and money for the payment of lawyer. He as a writer faces challenge of his intellectual time as he runs between the court and hospital. Everyday life takes over his creative world. He feels for the city of Bombay but cannot take a decision.  Lahore the city cannot provide him space for his creativity and livelihood. He suffers in both ways. He faces the challenges to his life and creative world. This makes him to drink a lot which kills him in the end. This is the sub continental problems of our society and state. Writers, artists and social activists face the challenges from their society and commitment from one side and their addiction to liquor despite it is banned in Pakistan. We are unable to define our commitment to society for which we want to live longer and a healthy life which is a required precondition for exhibiting our commitment to thinking world. This indecision makes us more towards liquor or drugs which kill us every day. Our longevity gets reduced and our creative world suffers from this major personal problems. This is a dilemma we experience in our everyday lives. Manto dies in the age of 43 which is the really the creative age for any creative person. His stories keep him in our literary world and imaginative world where his story Toba Singh makes him immortal in our literary world. This story brings to end of the film and beginning of our communal politics. Toba Singh searches for country and home but the state is unable to find his place according to the revenue records which make him to die in no man’s land. This story is a painful one where human being searches for a place to lead his life but finds no place for him. This is the caricature our partition politics and cartography. The British officials did not have any planning for reorganizing the boundary of each country.  Their adhoc policy creates more problems as some times they decide a district to be merged with Pakistan and then bring back to India. Their politics of adhocism and lack of preparedness in terms of security and policing created more problems for people. Their vacillation and their unpreparedness create more deaths for refugees. Very often they are not aware of their whereabouts. This confusion helped the criminals to exploit the innocent victims both in terms of sexual exploitation and physical security. In one of his stories Khol Do one father searches for his daughter who makes him mad and this madness brings him to the hospital where he finds the dead body of daughter covered under the coffin. When the story ends and another  story begins as the similar social experiences we suffer because of certain political forces working against the community resulting in killing and deaths and social space getting occupied by one community pushing the other to a different place. Space reorganization in terms of each community creates basis for another partition where the state remains as an observer without any action. There will be many Toba Singhs in our society today.

Handling an artist and his creative world in cinematic manner a challenging work for a film director like Nandita Das who handled the story as a master crafts woman without losing the purpose of storytelling to keep the audience engaged till the last moment. Actor Nawazuddin Siddiqui, who was last seen onscreen in Manto, has played an important role in handling such a difficult and sensitive human story teller.  

Prof. Radhakanta Barik, Retired Professor in Political science and a story writer in Odiya.

Sep 30, 2018

Prof Radhakanta Barik

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