For more than five decades, Saadat Hasan Manto has been showing the society a mirror, questioning bigotry at every step through his words. When he lived, his writings were feared and deemed controversial, but once he left, the same were celebrated for looking into the eye of the society and speaking the truth it shied away from. And according to actor Nawazuddin Siddiqui, who is bringing the writer alive on the big screen in a biopic, India needs Manto now more than ever.
His mere mention lights up Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s eyes as he talks about him with child-like excitement. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that the actor has caught Manto’s soul because he has the writer’s words learnt by heart and they take no time to flow as one asks him about Manto’s perpetual relevance.
“Manto is as relevant today as he was during his time. Like, I will narrate you his speech, which he had given in Jogeshwari (in Mumbai). We have used it as it is,” Nawazuddin said as he got into his on-screen avatar.
“Mere mazmuun pe aap kitna bhi discuss karlo, mujhe maar bhi do mujhpe koi farak nahi padhega. Lekin Hindu-Muslim fasad mei koi mera sar phod de, toh mere khoon ki ek boond ke liye mai rota rahunga, mar jaunga. Kyunki mai ek artiste hun, onche zakhm yeh Hindu-Mulim wale zakhm mujhpe mat daalo,” said Nawazuddin as Manto.
Manto, best known for his stories on Partition, was born on May 11, 1912 in British India, migrated to Pakistan after 1947, and died at the age of 55 on January 18, 1955. The biopic titled Manto has been directed by Nandita Das, and chronicles four turbulent years of the writer’s life (1946-1950) — before and after the Partition.
“And it is possible that Saadat Hasan dies, but MANTO remains alive”.
Glad to inform that ‘MANTO’ is selected for competition at #Cannes2018 in #UnCertainRegard section.
Congratulations @nanditadas and Team #Manto pic.twitter.com/LBKcSVb1vb
— Nawazuddin Siddiqui (@Nawazuddin_S) April 12, 2018
Nawazuddin further said of the short story writer, “He used to say, ‘These (religious fanaticism) are disgusting things, motives. Debate on my story and kill me, I will be fine with it. I will think I got a good death. I will be happy. But don’t do these things because I am an artiste and I don’t like such dirty scars.’ He used to call himself an artiste no, so, he would say, ‘I am an artiste. Don’t make me anything else’.”
The actor’s own religious identity was the subject of a controversy two years ago when he had to pull out of a Ramleela performance in Budhana, Uttar Pradesh reportedly after members of the local unit of the Shiv Sena raised objections, saying, ‘For 50 years, no Muslim has ever been a part of Ramleela. So, why would it be allowed now?’
Nawazuddin says like Manto, he wants to only wear the badge of an artiste in this life as all other identities burden him.
“I relate to him. This is my favourite line of his speech. I had even tweeted because of this at that time. But it was taken out of context. I understood people’s mindset right then itself because they didn’t get what I was trying to say, they still don’t get it I am sure. I had written that only after knowing Manto – ‘I am an artiste and in one life, it’s enough to be just one person.’ And that too, one should try to be that one person in all honesty. I don’t think there’s ever been a more beautiful line than this.”
Manto, also starring Rishi Kapoor and Rasika Duggal (as Manto’s wife Safiyah), will compete in the Un Certain Regard section at the 71st edition of Cannes Film Festival, which is set to kick off in May.