My journey with Saadat Hassan Manto began when I was almost 17. I had just entered college and in my Urdu class, we read a few of his short stories. Sure, earlier, I had a vague idea of who he was, but I had never read his works until then, simply because of two reasons:
1. I wasn’t allowed, and
2. I wasn’t very much interested in reading Urdu books.
Saadat Hassan Manto was a rebel. And maybe that’s why I liked him. He had a flair for Urdu, an extraordinary way with words, and his stories were intense. People and other writers of his time did not like him very much.
In a Pakistani society, then and even now, some affairs are supposed to stay unspoken and hushed hushed, and he broke taboo. People were outraged. They called him a pervert for writing such stories, when in reality, everything that he has written was derived from his personal experiences and inspired by true events with real people.
My family is very much into Urdu as a language. Their written and spoken Urdu is flawless as they come from a family of writers and poets. My dad has Urdu books showcased in his small library. But none are by Saadat Hassan Manto. My family would always show resentment when they would talk about him. “A pervert with a twisted, immoral and evil mind” they would call him. Unislamic. Yes. That’s what they said.
And this is why I was never allowed to read Saadat Hassan Manto’s works when I was growing up.
In my second year at university, I took a filmmaking class by Sarmad Khoosat, who is a famous Pakistani actor and director. He had just directed Humsafar, a drama serial, which was an instant hit and very much appreciated all over the country. In class, he told us about his upcoming movie, Manto, which was still underworks, and throughout the semester, we would get to watch exclusive footage because he would want our feedback.
Even though, we had seen clips and many scenes already in class two years ago, my friends and I were thrilled to watch the final film. The movie was released on September 11th, and we only just got time to go.
Manto was a brilliantly executed and a painful work of art. It was intense, gripping, tragic and more importantly, unforgettable. I did not find the movie disturbing, as the director wanted people to feel after they watched it. Instead, I found it deeply sad and mournful. The screenwriter, Shahid Nadeem, has done an excellent job unravelling the tragic life of Manto, the screenplay was just perfect. When it comes to portraying the character, Sarmad Khoosat showed utmost brilliance and portrayed the troubled writer with sheer truth and clarity.
The movie briefly introduces the short stories written by Manto, takes us into his personal life and shows us a glimpse of his relationship with his family and friends, and exposes the main motivation behind Manto’s writings.
I think, after watching the movie, I understand the writer much more than I did before. The movie proves that Saadat Hassan Manto was only human. Yes, one of the greatest South Asian writers of all time, but despite his brilliant mind, he wasn’t perfect. He was every bit as flawed and disturbed as every single one of us. He was quite sensitive and very expressive, and that resulted in his bold stories and because of that, he was greatly misunderstood and unappreciated. He was not a pervert, as people love to call him, and his writings were not at all corrupt and immoral. He was sad and melancholy, and that resulted in his writings, too.
Throughout the film, we see Manto’s inner battles, his excessive smoking and drinking problem and how it was affecting his family life. The movie also shows us that Manto’s writings were influenced by everything that he found shocking in life, and he put these events in his stories. So, in a way, his writings are not fiction, they are his personal experiences with people.
Roughly translated: “There weren’t mirrors in the world before, but there was so much beauty. Now, there are so many mirrors, but where is the beauty?”
The short stories of Manto have been shown in a very beautiful manner and every narrative is impeccable and different from the other. Since Manto lived through the Partition, most of his stories are heavily influenced by what he saw around him during that time. I found Toba Tek Singh very heartbreaking and I almost teared up during that scene.
My favorite scene was almost at the end, though, where Manto realizes his alter ego was the one behind all his writings. That scene, the way it was shot and the art direction and everything, that was just brilliant.
All in all, this movie was pure genius. Sarmad Khoosat did a fantastic job portraying Manto especially in the climax of the movie, and he just blew away the whole audience by his depiction of the downfall of Manto’s physical, psychological mental health. In the end, we all were left feeling mournful. The film also cast renowned Pakistani actors who did justice to their characters.
I don’t understand why people, such as my dad, think of Manto as a perverted writer. His works depict the relationship between men and women, but he mainly wrote about the way society perceives women. Sure, he wrote about controversial stuff, but that wasn’t made up, it was only the truth.
I honestly believe people like my dad should definitely watch this movie. Maybe it will make them understand the troubled life of the author and maybe they will make a connection, just like I have.