An ode to creative freedom

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 20 Sep 2018 12:11:55


Actress-director-writer Nandita Das’ film Manto, a biographical account of Indo-Pakistani writer Saadat Hasan Manto’s life in post-Independence India, has been feted at film festivals worldwide - Cannes to Rome to Toronto. Manto captures the writer’s life and his lifelong affair with words; Suman Das and Souvik Ghosh catch up with the filmmaker in Toronto for exclusive chat: 

How was Manto’s journey?
I began working on the project since 2012, which marked the centenary celebration (of Manto). A lot of things then started to be written about him. So I thought he is as fascinating as his stories are and then I started working on the film. My first draft actually was supposed to be a ten years’ story from 1942 to 1952 but it kept getting narrower. Now it is a four years’ story focusing on the time period before and after partition (Partition of India, 1947) as it is a significant time for both India and Pakistan and also in Manto’s life.

How excited were you to work with Nawazuddin Siddiqui?
Nawazuddin is becoming popular in every genre because he is able to do different roles with a lot of credibility and believability. In Manto, Nawazuddin’s character is very different from what he did in Sacred Games and Gangs of Wasseypur. I think he has done a fantastic job even as Manto and his eyes are very powerful which give a lived-life kind of feeling to the character.

Manto was a controversial character. Do you think this will draw the cine-goers to the theatre houses?
I think anything worth speaking about today is going to be a bit provocative. But I don’t think we are trying to do it (make the film) because he was controversial. Manto fought for freedom of expressions and he was tried six times for obscene writings which we are now celebrating. He was a maverick for sure and people do not just want to see the typical biopic of someone who becomes an extraordinary person despite coming from an ordinary background. People want to see believable characters (onscreen) who have contradictions. Manto is also a kind of person who has many grey shades that make him interesting. He is a mix of all but also has the will to speak the truth. He is honest, courageous, fearless, cares about marginalised people, women and sex workers.

You started your career as an actress but now you are a director. Do you follow the works of any national or international director?

Of course, I learn from life, world, and people but it’s not a conscious learning. I don’t think I studied any director to follow a certain style. The whole idea of creativity is to get influenced and impacted by everything around us followed by an internalization to tell one’s own story.
Did you select TIFF for the premiere?

My world premiere was about to take place in Cannes (at Cannes Film Festival) actually. I couldn't have asked for a better start for the festival journey. TIFF is a special premiere as I started my festival journey here. Fire (the film which featured Nandita opposite Shabana Azmi in a lesbian relationship) was shown here in 1996.
Manto stars Rasika Dugal as Manto’s wife and Tahir Raj Bhasin, Rishi Kapoor and Divya Dutta in key roles. It releases September 21.