Sarmad Khoosat: ‘I want my film to disturb people’
KARACHI: There’s mythology surrounding Manto and a lot of clichés associated with the writer. Yes, he was rejected, yes we didn’t own him, so it’s time we rectified some of those things.
This was said by Sarmad Khoosat, the director and lead actor of the recently released film Manto on and about the life and work of the celebrated Urdu short story writer and essayist Saadat Hasan Manto, at an event arranged to introduce the movie at the Oxford University Press head office on Monday evening.
The programme had an interactive format where members of the audience put questions to Khoosat and Sania Saeed, who plays Manto’s wife in the film. Actress Nimra Bucha (Manto’s alter ego in the film) accompanied them on stage. Earlier, the trailer for the film and a video of Majeed Amjad’s poem on Manto, sung by Jawaid Bashir, were shown.
Giving a brief presentation of the project, Khoosat said it was a long journey as it took him three years to make the film. Sharing the credit for completing the movie, he said a lot of ‘Manto enthusiasts’ (from actors to musicians to technicians) were involved in it. He argued there’s mythology surrounding Manto and people used clichés to describe him. He accepted that the writer was rejected and that ‘we did not own him’ or owned him very late, but reasoned that it’s time we rectified that.
Speaking on the entire initiative, Khoosat told film buffs, who took some time to fill up the hall, that the idea was conceived in 2012 for television. The narrative, penned by known playwright Shahid Mahmood Nadeem, touched him so much that he asked the people concerned to allow him to edit a film version of the project. They got excited and asked him to cut a long, rough version of it. “It took me two years to edit it,” he said.
Giving his views on the way Manto was treated in society, Khoosat claimed that the writer was marginalised; he was dealt with in such a dry way that he could only be understood by a certain group of people. This is the reason, he iterated, he had included in the film a poem by Shiv Kumar Batalvi (originally sung by Surinder Kaur) and asked Misha Shafi to sing it.
Responding to the question whether the film would be released in India, he said Manto’s stories were published there 10 times more than they did in Pakistan and everybody knew what the writer’s stance on partition of the subcontinent, giving the example of the story ‘Toba Tek Singh’. He informed the questioner that ‘queries’ were being received from India, but there were other aspects which needed to be taken into consideration. He assured him that if not a wider release in India, then smaller screenings would surely be held.
Khoosat talked briefly about how the filmmakers wanted to release it on Manto’s birth anniversary but that couldn’t happen and it incidentally got released on 9/11. He reasoned since tolerance was the singular theme that ran through the writer’s tales, the date seemed justified.
Actress Sania Saeed said she and Khoosat had read Manto from a tender age (kachi umr). On Khoosat’s passion she said in 2002 he had made a telefilm based on one of Manto’s stories. When she was shooting for the film, she saw in Khoosat’s house the script for that telefilm and the many notes that the director had penned down for purpose. She mentioned that Khoosat had been planning to do the film for a long time; it took three months to shoot the movie but more than two years to edit it. She remarked that Khoosat “lived with Manto for three years”, adding that the director’s approach to making the movie too was ‘Mantosque’.
On the positives of Khoosat’s efforts, she commented that the director in his film hadn’t tried to turn Manto into a saint.
Replying to a question, Khoosat said he was pleasantly surprised that the film was passed by the country’s censor boards. He said they had put disclaimers in the film about the hazards of alcohol and smoking.
In a related question about the climactic scene in which Manto is seen in distress and whether the director could tone it down, he acknowledged the concern of the person who had asked the question and said he would see to it that an extra caution could be added to the disclaimers. But he did give reason for dramatising the scene and exclaimed, “I want my film to disturb people.”