Raising the curtain on a reclusive Manto

KARACHI: Biopics are a territory most fear to tread but the genre becomes even trickier to tackle with when exploring a personality as complex as Manto. At the curtain raiser of the upcoming eponymous film, Sarmad Sultan Khoosat, who’ll essay the role of Manto, shared his thoughts on the controversial writer and how much the role means to him.
“To think that Manto will benefit from this movie is wrong. It’s us who are benefitting from his timeless genius,” said Khoosat, who has also directed the posthumous film. “We’re only reproducing his writings and the stories he penned about what he thought was right,” he added. He shared he was more concerned about what the writer may have thought about the film than how people would perceive it. “It’s just like Manto’s quote ‘Saadat Hasan mar jayega, Manto zinda rahega’.”

Khoosat described the opportunity to depict the character as “a chance of a lifetime.” Having read several of Manto’s afsanas, he revealed his personal favourite. “I think all of Manto’s writings give you goosebumps, but there are a few stories that one, [as a filmmaker], feels would translate well cinematically. For me, that’s Khol Do.”

Shahid Nadeem, the screenwriter of the project, also shared his views on the enigmatic writer, noting how there are only a few writers such asManto, who possess sensitivity, a craft and political awareness. “With the passage of time, I feel Manto’s stature is only increasing,” he stated.

Although Manto’s writings have previously been adapted for stage and television, Nadeem said the film would stand out in how it also explores the writer’s personal life. “You’ll see Manto for the human that he was. We have shown his personal life, struggles and suffering in the movie.”

Khoosat as Manto in the film

Boasting an ensemble cast with actors, the film will see Sania Saeed, Saba Qamar, Shamoon Abbassi, Humayun Saeed, Faisal Qureshi, Mahira Khan and Azfar Mustafa play prominent roles. The recurrent ‘bad guy’ of Pakistani cinema, Abbasi, who makes an appearance through the short story Thanda Gosht in the film, sang praises of Khoosat and his fellow cast members.

Only given a day’s notice before he was called to the sets, he recalled how he only had a few hours to rehearse for the character of the Sikh he plays in the movie. “It was an emergency shoot, so I’m hoping it went well,” stated Shamoon.

The organisers also took the opportunity to preview Manto’s soundtrack, which features songs, such as Kaun Hai Ye Gustakh by Javed Bashir,Kya Hoga by Zeb Bangash, and Mehram Dilaan De Maahi by Meesha Shafi, and Aah Ko Chahiye by Ali Sethi.

While announcing the release date for Manto, Nadeem said, “September 11 is viewed as a tragic date in history, as it’s remembered for Quaid-e-Azam death and the World Trade Centre incident. But now, it’ll be remembered for a good thing — the launch of Manto the movie.”

Published in The Express Tribune, August 8th, 2015.
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