Nawazuddin Siddiqui plays the titular character in Manto and by all means, his performance captures the essence of the film. But not just Nawazuddin, Manto has some other actors who have done a splendid job.
1. Rasika Dugal
Rasika, who plays Safia Manto, has a doe-like innocence about her but in scenes where Manto is withering, it is Safia’s strength that holds him together and Rasika rises to the occasion. In a scene where she reads out an emotional letter, it’s impossible to not empathise with her.
2. Rajshri Deshpande
Rajshri Deshpande plays Ismat Chugtai and truly deserves the titular part if a biopic is made on Chugtai in the future. Deshpande plays Chugtai with such conviction that we get the impression that no one in this universe could stand as tall as Manto but her.
3. Tahir Raj Bhasin
Tahir Raj Bhasin plays Manto’s close friend Shyam and holds his own in scenes with Siddiqui. He is a star-in-the-making and becomes a factor in Manto’s decision to leave India for Pakistan.
4. Paresh Rawal & Tillotama Shome
The transition here is one of the smoothest moments of the film. As Nawaz’s Manto steps out for a smoke, a character from his story Sau Candlepower Ka Bulb appears to offer him a light. Paresh plays the pimp who gets in a violent fight with the woman he’s trying to solicit. And even though Paresh and Tillotama Shome appear for a just a few minutes, the story is strong enough to make you cringe.
5. Gurdas Maan
Maan appears in the story Khol Do where he is desperately looking for his daughter who has gone missing during the partition. His helpless gaze and his stumbling feet describe his state of mind within a few seconds. One can’t look away from the screen in Mann’s presence and it leaves one wondering why we don’t see more of him in Hindi cinema.
6. Ranveer Shorey & Divya Dutta
Ranveer Shorey and Divya Dutta appear in Manto’s Thanda Ghosht. By this time in the film, Manto is in turmoil after his move to Pakistan. Thanda Ghosht is facing an obscenity charge and Manto is arguing for himself in the court of law. Over one long scene in one room, we see Ranveer and Divya presenting the essence of Thanda Ghost and it is haunting in every way.
7. Rishi Kapoor
Rishi Kapoor plays a sleazy movie producer during Manto’s days in Bombay. Kapoor is here only for one scene but effectively communicates how film producers could be misers and lechers all at the same time.
8. Vinod Nagpal
Vinod Nagpal appears at a juncture when Manto is starting to slip into delusion, and appropriately enough, the story of Toba Tek Singh starts. Nagpal plays Bishan Singh, the protagonist of the story, who just wants to reside in his village but is being forcefully sent to India post partition. The state of this man is much like Manto’s. Vinod Nagpal captures the helplessness and stress of Bishan and leaves you feeling melancholic.
Apart from these actors, the film also features Javed Akhtar, Chandan Roy Sanyal, Bhanu Uday, Shashank Arora, Ila Arun, Purab Kohli and many others.