Stark, Harsh, eminently watchworthy…Manto

Being a Literature aficionado, of course one knew of Manto. No recounting of  great short stories can be complete without the mention of Guy de Maupassant, O Henry, Hemingway, Jack London, Balzac, EM Forster, Chekov and our own Mulk Raj Anand, Munshi Premchand….and of course Manto. So since the time one first heard of the Nandita Das biopic on Manto, I eagerly awaited the September release. Felt doubly excited to hear Manto was premiered at Cannes Film Festival this year. It is a great introduction to Manto, the person.

One had read some stories of Manto and admired the man’s clinical control of his craft. Every story of Saadat Hasan Manto always leaves you gasping, shaken, stirred & exposed:  to the core of your being. Nandita Das’ second movie (after Firaq, on the aftermath of the Gujarat riots) Manto does the same.

The movie is set a few years before Partition and ends, just 7 years after 1948, with Manto’s death, when he was just 42 years. While talking of this small slice of Manto’s life, the movie manages to etch in your heart Manto’s love for Bombay, his difficulties with both the “Establishment” in the Bombay film world; his fierce independent stands, amongst the Progressive Writers of the pre Independence days; his dependence on alcohol which would eventually lead to his ruin; his monetary challenges and debts; his total disdain of the editors who sat in judgement of his writings; his friendship; his love for his children; his abrupt decision to shift to Pakistan. Alongwith all these, you see the Manto who exposed himself to the underbelly of dark side of the human condition. Manto explores what people (his fictional(?) characters) experience: prostitution and debauchery on one hand and the  harsh pangs of Partition on the other hand. Religious bigotry and one sided thinking is exposed and challenged. And in doing all this Manto suffers, as you do, bleeding while experiencing the movie!

Das has used a very clever trick of interleaving some of Manto’s stories like Thanda Ghosh, Khol Do, Boo, Toba Tek Singh into the recounting of Manto’s life. Indeed these two are inextricably intertwined! What the author Manto saw, the man Manto experienced!! Possibly, writing about all these pains, and that of Partition, was in no way cathartic for Manto.  Rather, he sinks deeper into brooding depression and deeper into drinking, progressively moving away from his family and descending into a personal hell. Das depicts this very realistically and logically. She has been aided in this task by an ensemble cast which  includes some really fabulous actors like Rishi Kapoor, Ranbir Sheorey, Divya Dutta, Gurdas Mann, Javed Akhtar and Paresh Rawal who recreate Manto’s life and experiences so starkly that it leaves the viewer gasping, and struggling for breath!!

Counterpoint to such a heavy dosage of clawing reality, are two positive side stories: of Manto’s friendship with Shyam (played by Tahir Raj Bhasin) an upcoming actor-star who makes it big; even as Manto’s star is descending on the horizon. Secundo is Rasika Duggal, playing the suffering wife Safia, a true soulmate who understands what Manto is going through, tries her best to build bridges between their daughters and Manto, even understands and condones (?) his excessive drinking binges. But both these positives cannot negate Manto’s self-curse… driving him deeper and deeper into a self-created inferno, which finally ends in his oblivion.

For me 2 sequences stood out and will haunt me for a long long time to come. One was Manto’s speech challenging religious bigotry by both Hindus and Muslims alike when he is invited to speak at a forum for authors. His impassioned arguments turn your own thinking upside down and force you to re-evaluate your own stance on religion and Partition. The second one, is his impassioned defence before the Pakistani court where he has been hauled for obscenity of content and language. His arguments make you revalue what is literary and what is obscenity; what is an author’s responsibility to reflect his experience and external “reality”; what is right;  and who can be a judge of what is right??? Some pithy questions raised there. It is interesting that Manto is more hurt by Faiz Ahmed Faiz’ comment that Manto’s writings are not “literature” grade; least bothered that Faiz actually supports his case against obscenity.

Obviously this is Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s place under the sun. His portrayal of the brooding Manto is heart-wrenchingly true to character. The artist’s descent into hell and beyond, is realistically enacted by Nawazuddin. Resultantly the viewer would end up with a better appreciation of Manto the man, Manto the author, Manto the father, Manto the friend, Manto the husband as Nawazuddin has really got under the skin of Manto the character.

As Manto noted: “आखिर में  अफसाने ही रह जाते हैं,  और उनके किरदार” In the end, all that remains are the stories, and their characters.

If you are a connoisseur of good & serious cinema, vote with your feet: go see Manto!

जिंदाबाद Manto जिंदाबाद!! जिओ  Nandita Das!! : in supplication, vikas


Heartbreaks…they go on…

Last I wrote on how skinned knees are easier to cure than broken hearts. I got some shocked reader feedback….how can I bare all about my broken heart on a public platform??… is it not too personal a story??…etc etc

Till people read my examples and understood that am talking of intense disappointments and let downs…whether done to me …or done by me…and then got what i mean by heartbreaks. It was not a bare all, no holds barred story of unrequited love confessions a la Hollywood style, but rather the day to day jolts and falls we all go through.

Am reminded of the famous Sardarji joke. Santa slips and falls off a banana peel one day. The very next day when he sees another banana peel lying on the road, he curses aloud,“धत्त तेरी की!!! आज फिर गिरना पड़ेगा!!” (Oh Heck no!!!! Now today I will have to fall again!!!!)  

Life is all about facing disappointments and pain, and carrying on despite it all! Napoleon had remarked that there is no brave soldier…one who is not scared…all soldiers are scared in the throes of battle…but a good soldier is one who is scared and still retains his ability to fight and follow his orders. Life’s battles continue to prepare us to be better soldiers…one who retains the ability to fight back and continue despite all the setbacks, the knives in our backs, the large let downs, the broken expectations and the unfaithfulness of our friends. Sara Teasdale (The Collected Poems)  put it ,well,“It is strange how often a heart must be broken/ Before the years can make it wise.”


I, for one, tried to follow other smart people’s advice and suffered the same fate as Agatha Christie who noted: “Everybody said, “Follow your heart”. I did, it got broken”. Or see the immortal love queen Marilyn Monroe’s famous musings:  “This life is what you make it. No matter what, you’re going to mess up sometimes, it’s a universal truth. But the good part is you get to decide how you’re going to mess it up. Girls will be your friends – they’ll act like it anyway. But just remember, some come, some go… As for lovers, well, they’ll come and go too. And baby, I hate to say it, most of them – actually pretty much all of them are going to break your heart, but you can’t give up…” Rather, I have reconciled with the view that the heart was meant to be broken and the road to true happiness is paved with many sad events, disappointments and longings.

The present crisis in my heart’s journey is seeing my daughter off… as she goes abroad for further studies! The feeling that she will not be around daily is disconcerting and disturbing. That she will be alone in a foreign land, fighting her own battles, resolving her own issues and far, far away from my watchful eye is heart rending. But alongside this feeling is the basic question: am I unhappy because she will be away? or am I more disturbed by the fact that she may actually not miss me at all? She has a new life opening up before her. So will I be redundant in her life? The dilemma is similar to that of any father at the time of marriage of his daughter…while he wants her to be happy in the new household that she is going to be a part of…there is also a sadness and grief of the emerging gap in your own life, your own family, your house, your own heart…. Mineko Iwasaki knew his stuff when he observed: “Stab the body and it heals, but injure the heart and the wound lasts a lifetime.” 

knew what

All of us who have loved and lost know: Once you had put the pieces back together, even though you may look intact, you were never quite the same as you had been before the fall. Augusta Webster sings of this state ” we two shall still meet day by day,
But never more shall heart respond to heart.
Two stranger boats can drift down one tide,
Two branches on one stem grow green apart.
Farewell, I say.”

Farewell. God Speed. All the Best. I for one aver and understand: we must open our hearts and be ready for the fall. Know our heart will break, but expose it anyways. To complete Marilyn Monroe’s earlier quote: “…Keep trying, hold on, and always, always, always believe in yourself, because if you don’t, then who will, sweetie? So keep your head high, keep your chin up, and most importantly, keep smiling, because life’s a beautiful thing and there’s so much to smile about.” 

So to my daughter and all those who regularly and routinely break my heart, to my sisters, brothers, friends and lovers, to all my well wishers and ill wishers, I say what Augustus Waters tells  his lover Hazel in the Hollywood blockbuster The Fault in Our Stars: “It would be a privilege to have my heart broken by you”.

ways to die

The quintessential philosopher of today’s nihilistic times Albert Camus has the last word on this: “It is necessary to fall in love – the better to provide an alibi for all the despair we are going to feel anyway.” This appeals to my misanthrope heart and mind. But for you, my dear positive readers, I end with our favorite ABBA

Chiquitita, you and I know
How the heartaches come and they go and the scars they’re leaving
You’ll be dancing once again and the pain will end
You will have no time for grieving
Chiquitita, you and I cry
But the sun is still in the sky and shining above you
Let me hear you sing once more like you did before
Sing a new song, Chiquitita
Try once more like you did before
Sing a new song, Chiquitita


So dear daughter,and all my heart breakers, I end echoing Nayirrah Waheed:              “you                                                                                                                                                      not wanting me
the beginning of me
wanting myself
thank you” : vikibaba