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.

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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.