Nandita Das has got into the life of Saadat Hasan Manto for a reason. This filmmaker is perturbed, err, grossly disturbed, that why is the freedom of expression being curbed left, right and centre today. The filmmakers is grossly disturbed at how caste and in particular, religion has divided us into messy parts (and surprisingly not on social media. Right, ND?). So, Saadat is rewinded and every word he writes provides him only suffocation from those who matter, so much so that his marriage goes almost dead and his daughter almost dies. Yes, that's what happens if your freedom of expression is snatched. And Nandita ends the film with a few words of gold from Javed Akhtar and a few messages written across the screen, which tantamount to: 'Speak up, your lips and tongue are only yours'. Anymore validation that the lady is not at peace?
Nawazuddin Siddiqui comes up with a sterling performance, so good to see him after that criminal waste he splurged in that movie called Genius, which saw Anil Sharma doing a great disservice to his son Uttkarsh. And hey, he looks so much like the late Ashok Kumar that once he even is mistaken for the actor in the film. You even have someone who goes close to looking Naushad. So authentic of the times it has been set in- mid 40s and 50s. The list of Nawaz's unforgettable expressions is long, but watch him in the scene where the flashpoint is reached with his friend that he should not stay in India anymore. Watch his face when he hears in Pakistan some loony almost celebrating that Mahatama Gandhi has been killed. Watch him in the scene how miserable and guilty he looks when he sees his daughter lying critically ill. Watch him in the scene when he fights his court case in the end- confidence plastered all over his body.
Over to Thanda Ghosht, the story which lands Nawaz (Saadat) in maximum trouble (penury, precisely) but he still does not flinch. Divya Dutta springs up in that short twist as a woman with sexual desires, and boy, isn't she (always) good?
The supporting cast in this (almost) one-man show is fine. It's almost a black-n-white film, no compromises made. Proud of you, ND. Haan, Rasika Duggal playing Nawaz's wife is brilliant. Ditto for Tahir Raj Bhasin who plays his friend, the matinee idol Shyam. Rita Ghosh’s production design and Kartik Vijay’s cinematography are impeccable.
You can't not like Rishi Kapoor as the tharki. And yeah, you can't not get nostalgic about shades of Guru Dutt either in the film. Don't miss, Manto. Unless you are someone who is not ballsy. I am going with FOUR.