After travelling to various international film festivals, Nandita Das’ Manto is all set to make its way to Indian cinema halls on September 21. In the film, Nawazuddin Siddiqui plays the titular character and Rasika Dugal plays Manto’s wife Safia who was his strength through good and bad times.
In a chat with indianexpress.com, Rasika spoke about how they went about researching for this film, “Nandita (Das) had spent a lot of time with Safia and Manto’s three daughters in Pakistan and also with Safia’s sister. So a lot of information that the family had, anecdotal information, stories that they shared, made its way into the script.”
Manto never wrote much about Safia but a few of his essays roughly paint of picture of his wife. Manto wrote some biographical sketches of famous personalities while he was living in Bombay and the compilation is called ‘Stars from the Sky’. In that, he also wrote a chapter about film actor Nargis. Rasika revealed, “In that essay, he talks about how Safia and her sisters were the giggly bunch of girls who used to prank call Nargis at night. They were so much in awe of her on-screen persona that they decided to do this. And over those prank calls, they became friends. It’s a very sweet story.”
Rasika also spoke to Nusrat Manto (Manto’s daughter), who resides in Pakistan and candidly shared that after seeing her pictures in the film’s look, Nusrat told her, “You look just like my mother,” and Rasika was over the moon after this compliment.
Not many know about Safia’s personality and Rasika admits that this makes her job easier as there are no “pre-conceived notions”. Safia was the caregiver in Manto’s declining days but Rasika believes that instead of showing her as a bystander, she wanted to portray her as a woman of immense strength. “I wanted to maintain that gentleness and warmth but at the same time didn’t want her to be looked at as somebody who is weak in any way,” she said.
This is Rasika’s first time working with Nawazuddin Siddiqui and she termed this experience as “very beautiful” but she never felt nervous about sharing screen space with him. “I always say that I’m never nervous about working with good actors, I’m nervous about working with bad actors. Good actors always understand that a scene is not about one person, a scene is about what two people experience with each other,” she said. She elaborated, “Both of us had a quiet understanding of each other’s process and I, of course, have a lot of respect for him as an actor and despite being much more established than I am, he responded with the same kind of respect, so I can only be grateful.”
Rasika is curious to see how the Indian audience, who is familiar with Manto’s work, reacts to the film. “I want to know what a country having to fight for freedom of speech and expression thinks about the story of a person who stood for freedom of speech,” she concludes.