I was telling a friend last night that dare I say, Manto (the movie) is better than Moor. Now Moor, comes from Jami, and he is someone I have tremendous respect for his ideas and work. And don’t get me wrong, I loved watching Moor. Manto comes from someone whose earlier work I have barely seen. The only time I remember seeing sultan Sarmad Khosat as an actor was in a sitcom. I have definitely not seen any of his work as a director. Before today, I had no clue he was director of the famous Hum TV play ‘Humsafar’. The point is, I had to think a few times before making that statement because it says a lot. What I actually wanted to say was, it is the best movie to have come out of Pakistan. I cannot say that because I simply don’t think I am qualified to say it. But I can definitely claim that Manto has raised the bar for local cinema. My initial hope is, that somehow it ends up making commercial sense so that movies like Manto, Moor and 021 keeping coming. If we as a country are still not ready for movies like these in 2015, then it is plain sadness.
Back to Manto, where to start. I am sitting here writing this review feeling like a fan so it is difficult to keep partiality out. The idea of watching a movie on a subject like Saadat Hassan Manto, a proclaimed anti-establishment rebellious figure known for his provocative work was always appealing to me. But to see the result in the form of this powerful, intense and dark movie is really an effort that deserves an standing ovation. This is a director’s movie. Sultan Sarmad as a director has got most things right. Art direction and production design is excellent. Film maintains a stunning look throughout in line with the period depicted. Use of various interesting camera angles and psychedelic treatment gives narration an edgy feel. Sultan Sarmad has made effective use of creative liberty to incorporate Manto’s short stories in the narrative in what is otherwise a biopic. They don’t seem forced or out of place.
He has also managed to extract great performances from his star cast which appear mostly in cameos. Nimra Bucha as Manto’s alter ego stands out. Her scenes with Khosat will haunt you even after the movie has finished. Nadia Afghan and Savera Nadeem as characters of Manto’s short stories also put in great efforts. Saba Qamar as Madam Noor Jehan gets mannerism right but is passable. Faisal Qureshi sparkles in a role which lasts hardly a minute. The chemistry between Sania Saeed (as Manto’s wife) and Sultan Sarmad is good but her character as Safia is one dimensional. Sultan Sarmad has excelled as an actor. He has managed portrayal of a complex character with aplomb and displays Manto’s anguish, desperation and mental failings in a restrained and controlled performance.
Manto, the movie has excellent sound track. The songs featuring Meesha Shafi ‘Meham Dilan de Mahi’ and Ali Sethi’s ‘Aah Ko Chahiye’ stand out. Music does not have period feel to it except where required but still gels well with the movie.
You can’t help but think about life of Manto when the movie is finished, and if that happens you know justice has been served. Must watch. 5 Stars.