Mantostaan movie cast: Raghuvir Yadav, Virendra Saxena, Sonal Sehgal, Rahat Kazmi, Raina Bassnet , Shoib Shah
Mantostaan movie director: Rahat Kazmi
Mantostaan movie rating: 2 stars
The relevance of Sadaat Hasan Manto, and his stories, only seems to increase with each passing year. He wrote of a nation trembling on the cusp of Partition, which was cleaved into two in August 1947, and caused devastation and sorrow on an unimaginable scale.
‘Mantostaan’ is based on four Manto stories, and functions as a quartet, which cuts from one story to the other, the pace increasing as the film progresses. They become one, as the place and time of that mass migration come together in Manto’s searing strokes.
Each segment is harrowing in its own way: a father finds a barely-alive young daughter after being separated for a time; a family refuses to go ‘sarhad paar’ even when as the rioteers come closer and closer; two soldiers, Hindu and Muslim, learn what drawing a line between the two religions can do; and a pair of lovers discover how, in the course of a night, permanent emasculation can occur.
These are stories hard to read because it’s almost impossible to imagine how people who had once lived together in seeming amity could turn upon each other with such viciousness. Read them we must, though, if we want to know how our nations were born: the Partition created the India and Pakistan we live in today.
But the film fails in translation: it is a forced construct, and comes off flat and stagey, both in treatment and performance. It’s only the power of the original material which breaks through once in a while and holds us.
Raghuvir Yadav’s face, as he searches for his lost daughter, crumbling with mounting despair, will stay etched in memory. So will the absolute horror of a moment, in which a phrase triggers an action in a young girl after she is rescued from a gang of aggressors. It breaks your heart.
If done better, this film would have been a fitting testament to our times.