‘Despite trying, I could not separate India from Pakistan, and Pakistan from India’, wrote Saadat Hasan Manto, an Urdu playwright and author, who belonged to both India and Pakistan, but could not make peace with the fact that they were now ‘separate’ countries, at least in his lifetime.
Manto’s bond with the Punjab where he was born comes through in much of his writing on the pain of Partition.
However, two weeks after the release of the director Nandita Das’ critically acclaimed biopic on the writer, who moved to Pakistan after Partition, people from the writer’s birthplace Ludhiana in Punjab, have not yet got a chance to see the film on screen.
Manto was born at his maternal village, Papraudi, in Samrala town of Ludhiana district. But no cinema in Ludhiana, which boasts of several multiplexes, is showing the film that is battling distribution issues since its release.
It did open on just two screens on September 24, three days after its national release on September 21. The two screens had one show a day, but only until September 27, when it was taken off.
In Amritsar, it opened on just two screens, much after the release date.
The village, Papraudi of Ludhiana, where he was born and spent early childhood, remembers Manto with a library, and while many people in the village know that a film has been made on a famous son of the soil, they had no idea where to watch it.
“We don’t know where to watch the film. It wasn’t released anywhere in Khanna or Doraha (closest towns to the village) or even Ludhiana,” says Harjinder Singh, sarpanch of Papraudi.
Manto’s bond with Punjab and Sikhs reflects in one of his most admired works ‘Toba Tek Singh’ whose protagonist Bishan Singh, a Sikh, is being shifted from mental asylum in Lahore to India after Partition, refuses to leave Pakistan. Torn between two countries, he finds himself in no man’s land.
Speaking to The Indian Express over phone from Gulberg in Lahore, Nuzhat Manto (70), his daughter says, “Punjab aur Punjabiyat to unke andar samayi thi… Sikh bhaiyon se unka gehra rishta tha.. (Punjab and Punjabiyat was deep inside him. He had a special bond with Sikhs). His works like Toba Tek Singh is a testimony to how close he was to Punjab and his Sikh friends. He was pained to see Punjab getting split into two halves on the basis of religion. People of Ludhiana, where he was born, have full right over him. It is really saddening if people of Ludhiana and entire Punjab were unable to watch the film. We wanted the film to reach maximum people both in India and Pakistan and especially at places where he belonged.”
Nuzhat along with her two sisters had visited his maternal home in Ludhiana in 2012 for Manto’s centenary celebrations.
Daljit Shahi, president of Lekhak Manch (Samrala), which took an initiative to open ‘Saadat Hasan Manto Yaadgari Library’ in Papraudi after arranging funds from former Union minister M S Gill, calls it ‘misfortune’ of Punjab that the film failed to reach audiences.
“Commercial cinema has once again overpowered a critically acclaimed film. It is a misfortune of our Punjab that a film on a writer who grieved for Punjab’s partition through his writings did not reach people. Several people from his village Papraudi asked me that how can they watch it but there were no shows. Now, we are planning to hold special screening in Papraudi after finalising things with Nandita Das.”
Rajwinder Singh, a theater artist from A K S Rangmanch (Samrala) who played Manto in a theatrical adaptation of Toba Tek Singh, says, “Despite people of Punjab especially youths showing some interest in watching the film to know Manto, they weren’t able to watch it. We do not have any cinema hall in Samrala and release in Ludhiana was almost equal to no release at all. No one even got to know that it was screened for four days in Ludhiana.”
The only two screens in Ludhiana where Manto was released for four days (one show a day) were of PVR Cinemas (one each at Silver Arc Mall and Pavilion Mall). Speaking to The Indian Express, an official from PVR Cinemas said that there was a delay from side of distributors which led to release on Monday instead of Friday in Punjab.
“We need certain clearances related to censor and content of film before it can be exhibited. In case of Manto, there was a delay from side of distributors and certain conditions were not met by Friday. So we released it in Punjab on Monday,” he said.
Asked why the movie was not retained for even a week and taken off in four days, he said, “Firstly, the occupancy was low. There were only 25-30 people watching it in a hall with capacity of 150. It is difficult to continue a film that too just one show a day with such low occupancy. Secondly, we had other films releasing next Friday which had to be given slots as they had good response even in advance booking. So we were unable to continue Manto.”
No release in Pakistan
The film is yet to be screened in Pakistan. Hasan Zaidi, a noted Pakistan filmmaker and Karachi-based journalist, says, “The process is still going on and nothing much can be said about possible release of Manto in Pakistan. Since it is a film about an iconic subcontinental writer who migrated to Pakistan and wrote his most famous stories here, many people would be interested in it. There would be a lot of interest in seeing how Nandita (Das) has handled the story. We hope it is released so that we can watch it on big screens instead of watching pirated copies.”
Speaking to The Indian Express over phone from Busan in South Korea, director Nandita Das says that she has been ‘saddened’ that film has not been screened properly in Punjab.
“I am deeply saddened the movie hardly reached Ludhiana from where Manto belonged. Unfortunately, such decisions are beyond control of a director like me. Many places with deep interest in Manto had no shows.”
“Even in Mumbai, there is one show left now. In three weeks, it has been reduced to merely 14 screens in country. I am not sure on what basis and rationale cities were skipped or selected by distributors,” she said.
On release in Pakistan, she added, “I am working hard to get it released in Pakistan as Manto belonged to both countries and film can be a bridge in troubled times. I am very hopeful it will release in Pakistan.”