The journey of Manto and taking it to the audience at Cannes has so far been miraculous, says director Nandita Das, whose purpose behind making the movie on the life and works of the late writer Saadat Hasan Manto was to trigger conversations, to urge people to ask themselves difficult questions and to make them face inconvenient truths.
Taking a breather out of a “roller coaster ride” that she has had in Cannes over the last five days, Nandita said after the last minute running around before she arrived for the 71st Cannes Film Festival, the “carnival-like energy” lifted her spirits. She said she felt the excitement and nervousness of a director whose film was going to be screened at the most prestigious film festival in the world, with the toughest-to-please audiences and critics.
Being at the Cannes Film Festival has not been a new experience for Nandita, who was accompanied on stage by over 20 cast and crew members at the presentation before the premiere.
“Cannes is not new to me. I have been coming here since I was invited in the main jury in 2005. Including more recently, to raise funds for Manto. But this time was like no other time. On the day of the premiere, I was neither euphoric, nor nervous. Just happy. The fact this film actually got made is a miracle. For it to be in Cannes, is the second miracle.
“So I was not even ready for the third one in a row – an overwhelming response from both audiences and critics,” Nandita wrote on Wednesday in a lengthy Facebook post. She said the premiere garnered a 4-minute standing ovation, and strangers hugged her while sobbing.
“Some just sat in their seats still immersed in the experience. Some chose to walk out quietly, as if not wanting to break their experience. Six years of relentless work and challenges had finally found their culmination,” said the actress-director, who had earlier helmed Firaaq.
Manto features Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Rasika Dugal in key roles. The director said the feedback from reviewers was “overwhelmingly positive and their critique interesting”.
“Art is subjective and how people process your film is always intriguing. Most critics connected with the film, the characters and were immersed in the journey. The praise ranged from calling it the ‘Garm Hawa’ of our times to ‘handsomely mounted prestige piece’.” She said she always felt that “juxtaposing Manto’s real world and with his imagined one in facts was essential to understand the man and the writer”.
“After all in his own works the line between fact and fiction are blurred.” Nandita says she respects everyone’s take on the film, which she says she made “as a means to an end – to trigger conversations, to ask ourselves difficult questions, to face inconvenient truths”.
At the Cannes Film Festival, Nandita also became a part of the IMDb Pavilion and she also joined 81 women film professionals from different countries in a protest against gender disparity at the gala.