It has been a week since Nandita Das’ feature film on the life and works of celebrated Urdu writer Sadaat Hassan Manto hit screens across India. While the film is yet to be released in Pakistan, the Nawazuddin Siddiqui starrer is garnering positive reviews from critics and audiences across the border. The film, which was the culmination of years of hard work, was also well-received at the various film festivals it was screened at, including the prestigious Cannes Film Festival.
Nandita, whose films include a lot of detail, fully immersed herself in the making of the film. She recreated Bombay as it was in the 1940s and made a small village in India, Vaso, Lahore. She got in touch with Manto’s daughters and family, currently residing in Lahore, and involved them in every aspect of her film. She studied her subject in depth, not missing out on a single facet.
Speaking to Pakistan Today, Manto’s middle daughter, Nuzhat Arshad, shared that Nandita was in constant contact with them over Whatsapp throughout the making of the film. She detailed that the renowned director travelled to Pakistan and stayed with them for a couple of days, so she could get to know Manto’s persona as a father and husband, better.
Nuzhat said that Nandita was like a daughter to her and no other person could have brought her father’s life and works to the big screen the way Nandita did. Nuzhat praises Nawazuddin Siddiqui for his portrayal of the acclaimed writer and said that the award-winning actor did complete justice to the role.
When asked how she felt while watching the film, Nuzhat said, “It was an emotional experience. We were quite young when our father passed away so our memories are mostly blurred.”
“But watching him come to life on screen was nothing short of an emotional roller coaster. Throughout the film, I wished that my parents were present with us to cherish the moment. More than us, it is them who deserve the attention.”
At this point, I ask Nuzhat whether she liked Sarmad Khoosat’s Manto or Nandita’s, to which she replied that both the films were brilliant on their own and it would be unfair to compare the two.
Manto’s daughters were also invited to India to attend the film’s premieres held in both Delhi and Bombay. While Nuzhat and Manto’s youngest daughter, Nusrat Jalal, managed to make it, their eldest sister was unable to travel because she didn’t have a valid passport. Sharing the details on their trip to India, Nuzhat said that their trip was short and rushed but gave them memories of a lifetime.
“I landed in Bombay a day after my sister [Nusrat] and her husband went. Unfortunately, I missed the tour of Bombay that Nandita gave them [on their arrival] so I couldn’t get a chance to see the place where my parents resided in Mumbai,” said Nuzhat, adding that though she had visited Delhi a few times, this was her first time in Bombay.
“Nonetheless, Bombay was fascinating. Just walking around the city was an experience of its own and visiting the historic Prithiviraj Theatre was probably the highlight of my trip.”
The first screening of the film took place in Mumbai and had several Bollywood royalty attendance, including Rekha, Shabana Azmi, Kabir Khan, Imtiaz Ali and Ali Fazal in attendance. Nuzhat recalled that she couldn’t contain her excitement when she spotted Rekha in the cinema and after the film ended went up to the actress and introduced herself. Nuzhat said that Rekha was so warm and forthcoming that it felt as if she’s known Rekha forever.
Nuzhat also shared that veteran actor Shabana Azmi also came and met the sisters and spoke highly of their father. She said that all the stars made them feel so easy that did not feel for once that their worlds were poles apart. Also, she was all praises for Nandita’s hospitality sharing that the filmmaker made them feel at home and at ease.
The fate of Manto is still uncertain in Pakistan as the film’s team is trying hard to pave the way for its release here. However, Manto’s family is hopeful for the film to be released in Pakistan so that the Pakistani audiences can also gain insight into the life of the controversial subcontinent author.