INTERVIEW

Saadat Hasan Manto’s fictional world has inspired the movie ‘Mantostaan’

Rahat Kazmi’s May 5 release is set during the Partition and explores religious intolerance and violence.

The title of Rahat Kazmi’s Mantostaan is a portmanteau of the surname of the renowned writer Saadat Hasan Manto and the Persian suffix stan, or place. The May 5 release explores the fictional world of the prodigious Urdu short story writer through four tales set during the Partition: Khol Do, Thanda Gosht, Aakhri Salute and Assignment. Raghubir Yadav and Sonal Sehgal play key roles in the 92-minute film, which also stars Kazmi in a small role.

Manto’s stories have been adapted for Fareeda’s Kali Salwaar (2002), while Toba Tek Singh will be the basis for a proposed Ketan Mehta feature. In 2015, the Pakistani actor-director Sarmad Khoosat’s biopic Manto explored the writer’s life after he migrated to Pakistan in 1948. Nandita Das’s upcoming biopic Manto stars Nawazuddin Siddiqui as the acclaimed writer. The continued interest in Manto is hardly surprising, given his writings and the ideas he embraced, Kazmi told Scroll.in.

How did ‘Mantostaan’ gets its title?
Saadat Hasan Manto said that after the Partition, the two nations of Hindustan and Pakistan could still not get rid of slavery. People had become slaves of their religion and started killing each other. Manto formed his own world through his writings, where he made social commentaries about the state of affairs in both countries. The world that he imagined in his stories is something we thought should be called Mantostaan – a unique place of his thoughts and words.

Play
Mantostaan (2017).

How have you treated the stories selected for ‘Mantostaan’?
We have taken four of his short stories and turned them into one screenplay where they are all interconnected. So while there is a wartime scene in Kashmir, another incident is taking place in Lahore at around the same time. Initially, we wanted to treat it as four separate shorts, but the challenge was to bring them all together under one roof and broaden the canvas of the film. Manto writes in a fluid, colloquial style and I found it easy to blend them into one seamless screenplay.

Are these stories based on true-life incidents?
The stories are fictional but since they were written by Manto, who was also deeply affected by the Partition, he must have been inspired from real-incidents. He had to migrate to Pakistan, and he was never happy there. He was a great satirist and most of his stories are reflective of that time in history, so they tend to have a slight historical tint.

Period dramas are often not well-received. Was it easy to fund your film?
It was difficult to collect funds for this film. A couple of friends decided to co-produce it with me. My lead actor, Raghubir Yadav, was very encouraging about the film and he insisted that he would work for free even if I had money to pay him. All the other actors, including Sonal Sehgal, did not charge any fees because they wanted to work on a subject based on Manto’s stories.

Sonal Sehgal in Mantostaan (2017).
Sonal Sehgal in Mantostaan (2017).

Did you face any problems with the Central Board of Film Certification?
When we took the film to the censor board, we were scared that they might ban the film because it shows a lot of violence due to the religious segregation that took place during the Partition. They have been banning a lot of movies lately. We were surprised that one of the committee members had read Manto’s stories and he congratulated us for making a bold and sensitive film. They did not cut any scenes.

Where was the film first shown?
The film was premiered at the Cannes film market in May 2016 and later went to several international film festivals, including the San Francisco International Film Festival and the Melbourne Film Festival.

Is Manto’s daughter, Nusrat, associated with the film?
When Manto’s daughter, Nusrat Manto, heard about the Cannes screening, she emailed me and supported me for making the film. She said that she was happy that I was taking his stories to a worldwide audience. She is also in touch with Nandita Das, who is making a biography on Manto.

Nusrat wanted to come to India for our film’s premiere but I think it might be difficult for her to get permission. We are also talking to a film distribution company in Pakistan to get the film released there as I feel Mantostaan is a film that belongs to both countries.

Rahat Kazmi.
Rahat Kazmi.
We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
__('Sponsored Content') BY 

London then and now – As experienced by Indians

While much has changed, the timeless quality of the city endures.

“I found the spirit of the city matching the Bombay spirit. Like Bombay, the city never sleeps and there was no particular time when you couldn’t wander about the town freely and enjoy the local atmosphere”, says CV Manian, a PhD student in Manchester in the ‘80s, who made a trip to London often. London as a city has a timeless quality. The seamless blend of period architecture and steel skyscrapers acts as the metaphor for a city where much has changed, but a lot hasn’t.

The famed Brit ‘stiff upper lip, for example, finds ample validation from those who visited London decades ago. “The people were minding their business, but never showed indifference to a foreigner. They were private in their own way and kept to themselves.” Manian recollects. Aditya Dash remembers an enduring anecdote from his grandmother’s visit to London. “There is the famous family story where she was held up at Heathrow airport. She was carrying zarda (or something like that) for my grandfather and customs wanted to figure out if it was contraband or not.”

However, the city always housed contrasting cultures. During the ‘Swinging ‘60s’ - seen as a precursor to the hippie movement - Shyla Puri’s family had just migrated to London. Her grandfather still remembers the simmering anti-war, pro-peace sentiment. He himself got involved with the hippie movement in small ways. “He would often talk with the youth about what it means to be happy and how you could achieve peace. He wouldn’t go all out, but he would join in on peace parades and attend public talks. Everything was ‘groovy’ he says,” Shyla shares.

‘Groovy’ quite accurately describes the decade that boosted music, art and fashion in a city which was till then known for its post-World-War austerities. S Mohan, a young trainee in London in the ‘60s, reminisces, “The rage was The Beatles of course, and those were also the days of Harry Belafonte and Ella Fitzgerald.” The likes of The Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd were inspiring a cultural revolution in the city. Shyla’s grandfather even remembers London turning punk in the ‘80s, “People walking around with leather jackets, bright-colored hair, mohawks…It was something he would marvel at but did not join in,” Shyla says.

But Shyla, a second-generation Londoner, did join in in the revival of the punk culture in the 21st century. Her Instagram picture of a poster at the AfroPunk Fest 2016 best represents her London, she emphatically insists. The AfroPunk movement is trying to make the Punk culture more racially inclusive and diverse. “My London is multicultural, with an abundance of accents. It’s open, it’s alive,” Shyla says. The tolerance and openness of London is best showcased in the famous Christmas lights at Carnaby Street, a street that has always been popular among members of London’s alternate cultures.

Christmas lights at Carnaby Street (Source: Roger Green on Wikimedia Commons)
Christmas lights at Carnaby Street (Source: Roger Green on Wikimedia Commons)

“London is always buzzing with activity. There are always free talks, poetry slams and festivals. A lot of museums are free. London culture, London art, London creativity are kept alive this way. And of course, with the smartphones navigating is easy,” Shyla adds. And she’s onto something. Manian similarly describes his ‘80s rendezvous with London’s culture, “The art museums and places of interest were very illustrative and helpful. I could tour around the place with a road map and the Tube was very convenient.” Mohan, with his wife, too made the most of London’s cultural offerings. “We went to see ‘Swan Lake’ at the Royal Opera House and ‘The Mousetrap’ by Agatha Christie. As an overseas graduate apprentice, I also had the pleasure to visit the House of Lords and take tea on the terrace.”

For the casual stroller along London’s streets today, the city would indeed look quite different from what it would’ve to their grandparents. Soho - once a poor suburb known for its crime and sex industry - is today a fashionable district of upmarket eateries and fashion stores. Most of the big British high street brands have been replaced by large international stores and the London skyline too has changed, with The Shard being the latest and the most impressive addition. In fact, Shyla is quite positive that her grandfather would not recognise most of the city anymore.

Shyla, though, isn’t complaining. She assures that alternate cultures are very much alive in the city. “I’ve seen some underground LGBT clubs, drag clubs, comedy clubs, after midnight dance-offs and empty-warehouse-converted parties. There’s a space for everybody.” London’s cosmopolitan nature remains a huge point of attraction for Indian visitors even today. Aditya is especially impressed by the culinary diversity of London and swears that, “some of the best chicken tikka rolls I have had in my life were in London.” “An array of accents flood the streets. These are the people who make London...LONDON,” says Shyla.

It’s clear that London has changed a lot, but not really all that much. Another aspect of Indians’ London experience that has remained consistent over the past decades is the connectivity of British Airways. With a presence in India for over 90 years, British Airways has been helping generations of Indians discover ‘their London’, just like in this video.

Play

For more information on special offers on flights to London and other destinations in the UK, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of British Airways and not by the Scroll editorial team.