Directed by Sarmad Sultan Khoosat, who also plays the lead role in the film, Manto is a special kind of cinematic experience. The film begins with a scene based in Lahore’s mental hospital, where Manto is being treated with electric shocks like many other “mentally disturbed patients”. But Manto’s empowering influence on all the other patients begins to trouble the authorities, as he speaks up against injustice wherever he goes. Hence, they decide to discharge him.
The plot reveals Manto’s struggle as a progressive writer and the hard-to-digest stories that he wrote, especially for people bent on diluting the realities of society and brushing injustices under the carpet. Through powerful dialogues and wonderful acting, the film exposes how this great writer, after producing some of the most amazing pieces of art, embarked on a voyage of self-destruction. As someone who has read and admired Manto’s work for years, the smooth transition from Manto’s life into his stories was a treat to watch. The movie became more relatable with Manto’s beautiful prose running through the back of my mind.
The film is based in Lahore, Manto’s home after partition, and advances gracefully through the beautifully written dialogues by Shahid Nadeem, with a central focus on Manto’s stories that reveal powerful characters metaphorically pinioned together, as they all question deception and discrimination in society. Sogandhi, Toba, Sakina and Ishar Singh in the film are all characters inspired by Manto’s surroundings. He didn’t just make them up – they all existed in society in one form or another, and the movie depicts that exquisitely. But what makes the movie exceptional is the fact that the director’s approach is simple yet intricate enough to make your overall experience incredibly captivating.
The movie also depicts Manto’s personal life and recalls how he was a loving husband and an affectionate father who loved his daughters. Sarmad Khoosat does complete justice to the larger-than-life storyteller’s own life story, delivering each act with appropriate pace and disposition. Sarmad quite skillfully astonishes the audience by forcing them to reconsider any and all predetermined views they may have had about Manto or his stories, crafting something that is multifaceted, hypnotic, and distinctively theirs.
The stellar cast includes Sania Saeed as Safiya/Begum Manto (who is as usual brilliant in her act), Saba Qamar as Madam Noor Jehan, Adnan Jaffar as Qudrat Ullah Shahab, Shamoon Abbasi as Ishar Singh, as well as Irfan Khoosat, Mahira Khan, Faisal Qureshi, Nadia Afghan, Savera Nadeem, Nimra Bucha, Tipu Sharif, Arjumand Rahim, Hina Khawaja Bayat and Rehan Sheikh in captivating roles. For me, music is not the highlight of this film, but ‘Aah ko Chahiye’, a reprise version of Mirza Ghalib's ghazal sung by Ali Sethi, definitely touches your heart.
Manto’s knack for classification is splendid. The movie is merciless in its depiction of the flaws and eccentricities of individuals, just like the characters Manto created through his pen. These characters have been outlined in the film with gallant strokes, without any attempt to tone down their stark colors.
Overall, Manto is an amazing effort – one that will definitely prove to be a pivotal production for our film industry. The movie is pure, dark, powerful, humane, clever, and deeply intense. Walking into the cinema, I anticipated a good movie. Walking out, I knew I had seen a great one.
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