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Must watch: Literary genius Manto comes to life in much-awaited biopic

Updated August 07, 2015
Sarmad Khoosat as Manto, and Sania Saeed as his wife, Safia — Publicity photo
Sarmad Khoosat as Manto, and Sania Saeed as his wife, Safia — Publicity photo

He may not be on every home’s bookshelf, but Manto is making his way to the everyman.

In cinemas on September 11 and on TV at a later, unspecified date, Sarmad Sultan Khoosat’s Manto is beyond a biopic. Written by director/playwright Shahid Nadeem, the film dramatises the latter part of the writer’s life, imagines his writing process and goes on to flesh out some of his short stories, including the likes of Thanda Gosht, License and Hatak. In a series of four music videos, glimpses of this gargantuan project were shown as 'first look' of the film at yesterday's launch event in Karachi and were released online last night.

A musical introduction to Manto

In the first video, scenes from Manto’s stories are punctuated with snatches of the writer’s personal strife, which are made more poignant by Ali Sethi’s rendition of Ghalib ghazal ‘Aah Ko Chahiye’.

Sarmad Khoosat cast himself as the tortured writer, doubling the difficulty of the task he had undertaken. He minces no words in explaining his decision.

"I think there’s a very selfish reason behind it," he said plainly, "I feel I have a connection with the legendary man and his work."

Sarmad continued, "[Playing Manto] is not just about acting, it’s about anyone who can possibly have a connection with him. I’m sure a lot of people read Manto, but it’s so based on interpretation, that somebody needs to have that connect, so that the interpretation would work. Of course you can not be copying everything that he did; there’s no documented research available on that. But I thought, if nothing else, I believe in him, and that belief does matter. But I’d stick to the first reason, that it was a very selfish decision. I wanted to do it."

To envision Manto's writing process, Nimra Bucha's character as Manto's alterego or muse was written into the script.

“I think Sarmad thinks I’m very weird, so he wanted me to do something very weird in the film," Bucha said with a laugh, when asked about her character, "We work very well together, we’re very good friends, so this role was a lot about mirroring. We exchanged personas in the film, swapped clothes for certain scenes. I’m not real, yet I’m very real. This weird dimension that our relationship brings to the film was very important to be able to imagine Manto as writer. I’m neither story nor author, somewhere in between."

To complete the picture of Manto's personal life, Sania Saeed plays Manto's wife, Safia, Saba Qamar plays Noorjehan and Arjumand Rahim plays a dancer close to the writer in the film.

Manto's stories in song

The other music videos are more story-specific, and two pay further tribute to other poets of the subcontinent.

Meesha Shafi's rendition of Shiv Kumar Batalvi's 'Mehram Dilaan De Mahi’ serves as aural backdrop of Thanda Gosht, which stars Shamoon Abbasi and Yusra Rizvi as Ishar Singh and Kalvant Kaur.

Javed Bashir lends vocals to Majeed Amjad's poetic tribute to Manto, 'Kaun Hai Ye Gustakh'. This video gives shape to Mahira Khan's in-character portrait as monkey master, recently gone viral:

Mohammed Hanif wrote the lyrics of a lilting duet, ‘Kia Hoga’, featuring Zeb Bangash and Ali Sethi. Mahira is seen returning to her demure signature in this one:

Playing Manto's characters

The film has amassed a star cast that also includes Hina Bayat, Savera Nadeem, Nadia Afghan, Adnan Jaffer and Irfan Khoosat as various characters of Manto's. Some of them shared their experience and hopes for the film with Dawn.com.

"I love Sarmad as a director and would never say no to him. But when he named the short story that he wanted me to act in, my heart stopped. It's probably one of his most sensuous stories and one of the most controversial pieces he has written. He spent a lot of time in jail because of it. That story changed his life," said Hina Bayat.

"I’m a little apprehensive, because one always is, you never know how you peform, how it has been filmed, but Sarmad having filmed it, and my father having written it, I’m quite conifdent that the film will be high-quality and well-received," shared Savera Nadeem.

"Manto is the truth. A lot of people havent read Manto, so I just hope people understand this film the way it’s meant to be. There are lots of films coming out, so I’m just hoping it gets the kind of appreciation it deserves," said Nadia Afghan.