‘Manto’ For Millenials – An Insider’s Take

Posted: September 21, 2018 by Amit Sharma in cinema, film, Making
Tags: , , , , ,


(Photo by Aditya Varma. You’ll want to keep an eye on this talented fella.)

After touring film festivals the world over, Nandita Das’ eponymous film on Saadat Hasan Manto releases in theatres today. While we are excited to watch it, and hear from others about how they like it, here’s something from someone who has worked on the film.

Anubhav Dasgupta had posted this on his Facebook page initially, and we thought it’d be a fit here at MFC. Anubhav has worked on Manto’s post-production.

Over to Anubhav:

In the summer of 2017, I was doing nothing. I’d practically severed ties with everyone I knew and I wasn’t close enough with my Whistling Woods friends to really hang out with them. Consumed by ennui and the buzzing background noise of clinical depression, I barely acted or reacted to anything that was happening around me. The fact that I had topped my batch earlier in the year did nothing to stir my spirits. I was just pretty fucking down, man, and I recognised that as a problem. I got an email about a senior student asking for an additional editor and one of my professors had recommended me, impressed as he was by my work throughout the first quarter of the editing course. Having little else to do, I jumped on it.

Shashwat Gandhi and Yugshrestha Karpatne had adapted Saadat Hasan Manto’s sweet and quietly devastating tale of child prostitution, Dus Rupay, as Five Hundred Rupees for their final year diploma film. Their original editor had begun working with Subhash Ghai but their lovely film remained unfinished so I stepped in to help them complete it. I didn’t think much of Manto back then. I was exposed to his work by a few adaptations fellow colleagues had done and I was quite turned off by the use of schlock and horror. Male perspectives presented his stories as nothing but lust and violence and relied less on the depth and empathy Manto brought to his characters than the violent twists and lurid storytelling. Having avoided Manto because of these misrepresentations, Manto’s stories remained unread. I thought that Five Hundred Rupees would be the end of my sojourn with Manto but I was wrong. I don’t know what forces were in play, but Manto found his way into my life once again.

The work I did on Five Hundred Rupees would lead me to a chance meeting and that chance meeting would lead to a WhatsApp message asking whether I would like to assist on a feature film. It was being directed by a reputed woman filmmaker and starred one of my favourite actors, so I replied, “Yeah sure, why not?” and didn’t hear back from them.

A few weeks later, I was at a crosswords store, browsing their Indian fiction section, shifting aside the usual Durjoy Dutta and Chetan Bhagat schlock to find a copy of Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy. I took it in my hands, leafed through it and balked at the price point. As I carefully slid it back into its spot, I noticed a book with an orange cover right next to it. I pulled it out, Bitter Fruit — A Collection of Short Stories by Saadat Hasan Manto, and just looked at it for a bit. At that same instant, my phone rang and someone asked me if I could make it to Bandra in a few hours. School was out, so I answered in the affirmative. Then I had lunch and set off to Bandra on a Sunday. And that’s how my Manto journey began.

I joined in as an edit intern, late in the film’s post-production stage. It was pretty much complete but Nandita Das wanted to cut it down a little more and needed someone who could carry out the necessary exports as the film neared completion. Manto had a small in-house team — initially just me and her assistant Riya — and I found myself taking up more responsibility than I’d anticipated. And through the film Manto, Manto the man and the writer was revealed to me. The film peeled away the layers of grime and violence and revealed the true core of Manto’s stories: empathy, even for the cruellest and the worst, and a terrible sadness at the things that men do. His works and writings became a prism through which I processed my own feelings about the state of the world, the division and the cruelty that men have succumbed to, the blatant permission to commit cruelty that the current rulers seem to have signed off on. The film, too, is in part Nandita’s response to our times. I’ve seen it nearly a hundred times now as a result of my work and each viewing reveals a new detail, a new perspective, evident of the fact that the film was made with a lot of love and passion. Some days I’m moved by it, some days I’m ambivalent. I’ve been moved to tears by it just the one time, but maybe the first time will do it for you. It’s a good film with great scenes, two of which remain my favourite scenes from any film this year.

In some way, because of the coincidences, and especially of Manto leading me to Manto, I believe I was meant to work on this, for my own selfish self-improvement if nothing else. I’ve come in contact with some of the most talented and eminent people in the course of this journey, Sneha Khanwalker, Avani Rai, Tahir Bhasin, Resul Pookutty, Nawazuddin, Rasika Dugal, Kartik Vijay, Manto’s daughters Nuzhat and Nusrat, Nasreen Munni Kabir, Ashok Kumar’s daughter Bharti, Cameron Bailey, just to name a few. This has been one of the more fulfilling experiences of my life so far and I think I’m not the only person who has been changed by working on Manto. It was a special experience for everyone involved.

In becoming an inextricable part of my life Saadat Hasan Manto has achieved his ultimate revenge on me, someone who was militantly ignorant of his works, who went out of his way to avoid Manto. I cannot escape him now, and I’m glad to join the ranks as a Manto fan.

All I’ll say is, I’m proud to have worked on this film, to have worked on a film that I quite like, featuring some of my favourite actors, Neeraj Kabi, Rajshree Deshpande, Nawazuddin, and more, and a film that couldn’t be any more relevant, when the people in power have decided that they do not like what we say and want to rule through paranoia and phantom enemies. Please watch it tomorrow, I can’t assure you that you’ll like it, but I’m sure you will feel the passion and love that has gone into every frame of the film. I would like to thank everyone who was instrumental in making this happen, the people I know, the people I don’t and the people who I have come to know through this film.

Here’s to many more.

Please watch Manto. Out in theaters in this Friday. It’s been made with a lot of love, reverence and passion.

Anubhav Dasgupta

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