Manto is a story about creative rebels trying to make a statement on freedom of expression. Actor Tahir Raj Bhasin feels this will help it strike a chord with everyone irrespective of region or nation. He says the film has a relevant subject as artists and writers are facing trouble in expressing their opinion in many nations.
With Manto, director Nandita Das is tracing the life of writer Saadat Hasan Manto, essayed by Nawazuddin Siddiqui. Manto won acclaim for penning an impressive body of work touching various genres especially for weaving stories around the ordeal of partition as well as sexuality. It was the only Indian film in Un Certain Regard category at the 71st Cannes Film Festival.
“There was global audience at the fest and they gave a standing ovation… The feedback that we got was that the story transcends borders, which is great,” Tahir told IANS. “If you come to think about it, Manto was a maverick and a rebel who believed in creative freedom and freedom of speech. In today’s political scenario in a lot of countries, it is a major issue for artists and writers to not be able to write what it is that they want to convey. There is an underlying universality in the subject,” he added.
Tahir is a part of the Manto universe as yesteryear actor Sunder Shyam Chadda, Manto’s close friend. Shyam Chadda made his debut with Gowandhi, but got his big ticket to fame with Majboor. He added more power to his star status with hits like Dillagi, Patanga and Samadhi. He died on April 25, 1951, after falling off a horse on the sets of the film Shabistan.
On being asked if it was challenging to bring a true story alive on the silver screen, Tahir said, “Yes, because it is someone’s life and it is about someone who has got relatives today who will be watching it.”
He talked about his preparation for the film saying, “There were conversations with existing relatives. There were photographs and albums to be seen to figure out what the person was like. Shyam Chadda, in a short span, became a superstar and died in a horse riding accident. In a short time, he gave five or six hits, worked with popular actresses, and was hobnobbing with everyone. But everyone is very different in the public eye and in private life. When you are playing him, it is important to understand what he was like in the private life as well. One of the greatest sources was Manto’s book ‘Stars From Another Sky’. He had talked about his relationship with him (Shyam) in one chapter.”
Tahir said it was interesting to see that they had the same fears and insecurities which “we have today”. The actor said one would love to live in a world where creative freedom “was something which was open and available to all”.
“But unfortunately that is not the scenario today and we hope to make a small imprint on that,” added Tahir.
There are projects like Kai Po Che!, Force 2 and Time Out to his credit too. “In Mumbai, you don’t make choices. They choose you. My interest is to do interesting lead parts, to tell different stories and to surprise the audience. But as they say in Mumbai, everything is pre-written and it chooses you,” said the actor when questioned about what drives his choice of projects. On being asked about his next ventures he said he would make an announcement soon.
Manto, co-produced by HP Studios, Filmstoc and Viacom 18 Motion Pictures, is expected to release in India in September.