Mantostaan Review: Manto’s Stories Are So Powerful, They Can’t Go Wrong On Screen

Starring: Raghuvir Yadav,Veerendra Saxena, Shoaib Nikash Shah, Sonali Sehgal

Directed by Rahat Kazmi

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The stories of Saadat Hassan Manto are not pretty evening-time entertainment to be ingested with a  glass of ‘read’ wine. They are gut-wrenching nauseating, stomach-churning renditions of a time when India was split into two.

So were human skulls and  while many fled to the new country nextdoor, a lot of legs were  forcibly parted by marauders masquerading as political vigilantes.Yes,rape is not pretty and when a young gangraped girl responds to the simple request ‘Khol de’ by reflexively loosening her  salwaar  we know the times that this film takes us back to must never be visited again.

This cinematic  visit to those troubled times serves up a telling warning.

Director Rahat Kazmi  must be commended for bringing  to life 4 of Manto’s most savage depictions  of the pains of Partition. Rather than narrate the four Manto stories—ThandaGosht, Khol Do, Aakhri Salute and Assignment—in one linear progression Kazmi meshes the stories together to create a Mantostaan, a universe of  Partition stories colliding and  clashing with one another in a jostle of  horrific images.

Manto’s stories are savage, brutal, unbearably unforgiving of history’s fatally erroneous twists and turns.In  one of the stories  a dying Indian soldier(Tariq Shah) asks his Pakistani counterpart(played by the director Rahat Kazmi), “Do you guys really want Kashmir? You are being misled by some elements.”

The propagandist pitch of the above exchange is quite in-sync with the mood of retrospective pacification that cinema indulges in ,in order to make the gruesome mistakes from the past palatable , if not forgivable. This is in direct contrast to Manto’s quote at the end of this slight but loaded film where he  is heard saying he won’t dress up the brutal truth, because dressing up is tailor’s job, not a litterateur’s prerogative.

The four stories Kazmi has selected   give the actors a chance to recreate the ghoulish incidents in rapturous melodrama.Still some actors get a firm grip over the grim goings-on.Raghuvir Yadav as a distraught father of  a missing daughter melts your heart . VeerendraSaxena as a Muslim patriarch  who refuses to move out of his locality when riots break out, models his character, personality and humanism on Balraj Sahni in Garam Hawa.And newcomer Shoib Nikash Shah as a  Sikh  haunted by his dirty act during rioting brings  much-required heft to the relentlessly  grave proceedings.

Not that any of the actors are competing to win Oscars. What carries unmistakable weight over above the execution and  performances  is the original source material. Saadat HassanManto’s stories do not mince words. He conveyed the brutality and inhumanity  of the times without apology.

Mantostaan  must be commended for opening up Manto’s stories. And never mind if the new space provided for the stories to unfold are never quite filled with the riveting  fury of M S Sathyu’s Garam Hawa or Govind Nihalani’s Tamas.

At least someone has dared to look back during these times of modernday mythology at an angry irrational time when civilization  lost its humanism. For reminding us how much history’s lessons need to be learnt by successive generations of unattentive thrill-seekers,Mantostaan deserves a place in your heart.


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