New Delhi :
Nandita Das is making a film on the life of famous writer Saadat Hasan Manto and the actress-filmmaker says his struggles to express himself resonates with artists’ fight for freedom of expression in today’s times.
Manto acquired the title of a controversial writer during his living, but today he is celebrated for his work on both sides of the border.
“Manto’s fight for freedom of expression is so much relevant in today’s times... It is important for our country but also around the world artists, writers are struggling to find ways to say what they want to say,” Nandita said at an ongoing Urdu festival, Jashn-e-Rekhta.
“His fight was really to be himself... If you are a person, you should be progressive, he did not understand the need of progressiveness as an additional value in a person. He also defied national, regional identity, which is also an important issue for us today,” she added.
Titled “Manto”, the movie traces the writer’s time in Mumbai before he left for Lahore post Partition. Nandita revealed the film will touch the non-fiction part of Manto’s work more than the fiction aspect.
“I was influenced by his non-fiction writings so my film is non-fiction in nature. Of course, we have fictionalised a few things like his pillow talks with his wife. My movie is about his personal journey, how Partition affected him on a deep, personal level, the places he lived, in fact, Mumbai is a character in the film.”
Recalling her first brush with Manto, Nandita, 46, said she began reading his stories after watching a play based on
one of his works.
“I read him first in college... When I started reading his essays I realised his life in itself was an example. His stories are of course very powerful but the ups and downs he saw in his life...,” she said while speaking at a special session “Manto Ab Tak Ham-Kalaam”. Nandita feels she shared some similarities with the prolific writer.
“He was rebellious, he was very political but used to say, ‘I am not’. He used to say ‘I know about politics as much as Gandhi ji knows about cinema’. So, that is something similar to me. People put the label of activist in front of my name but I tell them don’t use such a big word for me, leave it for those, who do activism day and night.”
“Also, he used to get irritated with labels. He was never associated with Progressive Writers Association, despite being one of the most progressive writers of the times,” she said.
When asked if she ever felt he promoted misogyny, Nandita said, “Not at all. In fact, I feel he was a feminist. He was heavily influenced by his mother, sister and wife.
“He stayed loyal to his wife, used to help with household chores, something I don’t see men doing today. He threw his most nuanced gaze on women and especially those who are the margins, the sex workers.” The lead actor for “Manto” is yet to be finalised but Nandita plans to finish the film by next year.