KOLKATA: In ‘All Art is Propaganda: Critical Essays’, George Orwell had famously written: ‘A man who gives a good account of himself is probably lying, since any life when viewed from the inside is simply a series of defeats.’ Saadat Hussain Manto’s life appeared as a ‘series of defeats’ even when viewed from outside felt author Amit Chaudhuri after watching ‘Manto’ at the Kolkata International Film Festival on Sunday evening.

Chaudhuri was not alone to have got engrossed in the cinematic depiction of Manto and his stories. While the film reminded director Aditi Roy of Ritwik Ghatak’s struggles, director Raj Chakraborty howled seeing the humiliation of an author bruised by charges of obscenity, poverty and court cases. ‘Manto’, the film directed by Sarmad Sultan Khoosat, had managed to trigger different emotions in its first Indian screening that was held in the presence of the film’s cast.

“I have been a long-time admirer of Manto and I enjoyed the film,” Chaudhuri said. Overlooking the “slight over-dependence” on Manto’s stories in the film’s structure and lack of compression in the film’s duration that’s in contrast to the length of Manto’s writings, Chaudhuri admitted to have taken back a lot with him from the screening of the film.

He found himself taking note of the reactions of the members in the audience. For some, this film triggered the thought of whether a biopic should be attempted on Shakti Chattopadhyay and Sandipan Chattopadhyay too. For others, it served as an index of how authors, even revered ones, have to face humiliation. For Chaudhuri, it reminded him of Baudelaire’s legacy. “I liked the urban elegance and the fact that the scriptwriter had tried something new. Instead of being cheesy, the film presented an intellectually stimulating idea of commonality between two nations,” Chaudhuri said.

Chakraborty was visibly moved by the film. “I was howling when I saw the way Manto suffered in the end. Once the screening was over, I sat with my assistant directors and discussed the movie with them for over two hours. Though the issues were serious, the film wasn’t morbid. I was floored by the storytelling!” Chakraborty said.

‘Manto’, for director Aditi Roy, will remain an example of how a biopic ought to be made. “We usually end up glorifying our icons in our biopics and fail to present any flaws. But this film presented the author as a flesh and blood character, all complete with flaws. Besides, in India most biopics end up with directors changing the names of the protagonists. Here, despite showing the author’s alcoholism, director didn’t need to use the alibi of a fake name,” Roy said.

The portions of the film where Manto’s stories were dramatized have impressed actor-director Arindam Sil. “I loved the form that the film used. The dramatization of his stories left an impact on me,” Sil said.

Both Chakraborty and Roy were impressed by Khoosat’s performance in the role of Manto. “There was nothing forced in this unpretentious film. The acting was so spontaneous. Some did mention that the Pakistani actress who played Manto’s wife had striking similarity with actor Ananya Chatterjee,” Roy pointed out.

Though Chaudhuri would have liked something more ‘inventive’ in the film’s music, Chakraborty was largely impressed with the innovative use of Mirza Ghalib’s numbers in the film. “Some portions of the film reminded me of Ghatak. I found similarities between the opening scenes of ‘Rajkahini’ with Riddhima with portions of this film dramatizing Manto’s short story ‘Khol Do’,” Chakraborty said.

The biggest takeaway from watching ‘Manto’, Roy said, was the Khoosat’s comment before the film began. “Before the film began, he went up on stage and said: ‘Don’t believe all that is written about. We are here to give love’. I don’t believe in stereotyping nations. I am glad that Khoosat and his co-actor came down in person to Kolkata to show us the kind of work happening in Pakistan today. I am happy and impressed.”

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Source: TOI-Kol