In Conversation with the ‘Manto’ actors Rasika & Nawazuddin with Director Nandita Das
"Every character you play changes something in you" ~ Rasika Dugal
‘Manto’ the period biopic based on the life of the famed Urdu author Saadat Hasan Manto, written and directed by Nandita Das whose titled author is played by Nawazudin Siddiqui, who grows up in 1940 Bombay (now Mumbai), calling himself ‘walking-talking Bombay’ in one of the scenes. The film hits you hard with truth bombs surrounding the Partition through-out. A lot of attention is paid on the surrounding characters through the supporting actors in the film, since Saadat in his real life had many women idols in his own life. You see Nawaz’s range as an actor who plays a father and friend, a husband and a believer of showing the world exactly how it is – no matter how gritty that may be. He made sacrifices in his life without letting it get in the way of his faith in reality which is what Nandita’s film portrays with pure film making excellence.
The film is beautifully shot, every detail of each scene is given cinematic attention. It truly takes you back to Manto’s time. For a second film Nandita Das has shown great strength and even more potential after Firaq. The Hindi & Urdu is music to the ears – fresh and very well practiced dialogues and delivery. To see Nawazuddin Siddiqui play the role of a soft-spoken, loving author who is gentle, after his booming work in films like Gangs of Wasseypur, Raghav Raman, and the most recent Sacred Games reconfirms the faith of all his directors and fans alike in his brilliance. The film showed continuous support from his wife, Safia, played by Rasika Dugal. A very soft natured character that still has tremendous strength right till the very end of the film with amazing performances from the likes of Tahir Bhasin, Rajshree Deshpande, Rishi Kapoor, Paresh Rawal, Divya Dutta, Ranvir Shorey among the many others. Overall the films’ message is bound to stay relevant for now and the times to come and also for the time that has passed centuries ago. Overall, This is a must watch for every cinema lover. Heads up – you may take a while to recover once it ends.
Pandolin made it to the special screening held in Delhi on September 19 and caught up with Rasika, Nawaz and Nandita between the very vocal and elated fans and overwhelmed actors, this is what we have for you-straight from the faces on the screen, and behind the screen!
Nandita Das –
How did the idea to make a film on Manto come up?
” A few years back I witnessed a lot of people writing about him, essays were being published in books and magazines. I became really fascinated about the person he seemed to have been. To me, all that he wrote about is so relevant today – everything he was grappling with – his essays were his views on things, they were not just pictorial stories, so one could really get an insight into them. I also found some uncanny similarities between him and my father. It almost felt like I had grown up with a Manto and that insight was of a different kind, because you feel like you understand the contradictions of the person, the difficulties of living with a person like that.
Then I met the family in 2013 for the first time. His sister in law especially has been a huge help because she had the most memories of him. His daughters as well who are present here with us. Even in the worst possible phase of their lives, they had the most beautiful memories of their father, even more of their soft hearted mother. But his sister gave me such insight into Manto that couldn’t have been found anywhere else. Even the dialogue ” fikr mat karo main itna likhoonga ki tum bhooki nahin marogi – his sister-in-law said to him yahi to fikar hai ki aapke likhne ki wajeh se hi hum bhooke marenge” ( In the scene, it is his wife saying the dialogue instead of the sister in law) Simple things like these – The way he played with his daughters, the way he worked in a total state of chaos. I have seen how my father worked – he worked in complete chaos and then one moment he would switch roles to spend time with his child. People glorify the way artists do their work – in beautiful, serene, peaceful surroundings. Manto worked in chaos and that’s how I have portrayed him. He wouldn’t have liked it any other way either because that is exactly what he believed in – portraying the reality of the way things are.
So I think we need a Manto in our times. There are many others just like him who are being jailed, fighting, speaking up, holding up for all of us. So this is a celebration of all the Mantos around us. In our times, I believe we need that. Manto believed that the lines between fact and fiction are so blurred, he believed in free speech.
Sometimes after screenings, people can’t talk for a while – which is an equally good reaction for us. “
Why did you focus on the character of his wife, ‘Safia’ so much even though the title lead was her husband, ‘Manto’ ?
” I have never been to a film school. I’m not a trained film maker – I dont even watch too many films. My process is very organic – I’m not thinking ‘oh i should give more weight to others or some character. Its just that I’m always fascinated by what happens to the people LIVING with a person like that. So what do the people around these characters go through?
I also believe that films that have strong female characters do not have to be women-centric. Manto was surrounded by women – his women characters were so layered and he understood them so wonderfully. I believe he once said “Aurat ko samajhne ke liye, khud aurat banna padta hai.”
The one thing I made sure of was to make this film accessible – not to remain among the elite or converted. I showed it to my driver first and asked him what he thought about it. These kind of films need to have a fair chance. “
Nawazuddin Siddiqi –
What was the experience of shooting this particular film?
(Jokingly) ” Shoot karte hue bohot dikkat hoti hai – bohot zyaada awaazein, dhoop, baarish, woh sab. Lekin jab cinema hall mein baith ke dekho to lagta hai..haan.. theek hai “
It’s a lot of trouble to shoot a film, the noices, the sun, rains, everything. But when you are in a cinema hall watching the end result, you know it’s all good.
After seeing you in films like Gangs of Wasseypur, what does the significance of this character of Manto mean to you?
” Mere liye ahemiyat thi ki mujhe laga ki Manto ke khayaalat wahi hain jo hum log sochte hain, feel karte hainlekin bol nahin paate sabke saamne. Jab mujhe eh role diya gaya toh mujhe laga ki yeh mere khud ke khayaalat hain toh agar hum apni baat khud nahin, par ek character ke through keh sakte hain toh kyun nahin. “
For me the most important thing was that Manto thought of all the same things that we think about and feel about never speak out aloud. When I was offered this role, I realised that these are my thoughts too and if I can not say things on my own but if I can through a character then why must I not?
Rasika Duggal –
It must not be very difficult to say yes to Safia’s role… –
” There was no reason why I wouldn’t want to! It was like a dream opportunity because of Nandita and Nawaz. I’ve been an avid reader of Manto ever since my college days. When Nandita told me said she’s making a film on him I said wait..there’s no film on Manto yet?! I hadn’t realized it because to me he was such a tremendous talent. A Hero of free speech. He fought, spoke his mind.
I am also extremely fond of period films because somewhere I feel like I truly belong to that era – I think the phase of life today is too fast for me! So because of the respect I already had for Nandita after Firaaq, I knew I would be working with someone whose sensibility I could trust completely.”
Nawazuddin Siddiqui like everything he does is rock solid as Manto, what was your personal experience with him in the making on the film. Could you shed some light on your techniques of preparing together?
“I walked in to the project with a lot of respect for Nawaz already. I was very fortunate to find the same kind of respect reciprocated by him.
Him and I have an understanding of our processes ;
I don’t like to over-articulate my words or dialogues when I work on a film. We can do that as much as we like for our promotions, etc. but not while we are working because when you over-articulate your work, it loses its magic – it becomes very one dimensional. So he didn’t do that the same way I did not. That’s not my process.
Nawaz and I had exactly the right amount of interactions – not more, not less – we knew what each scene needed, and we focused on just that.
Every character you play changes something in you – it’s not something that is done consciously. I don’t think you realize it – even when you come out of it you don’t feel a “change”. But subconsciously – especially when I watched the film – I knew I wanted to show through Safia continuous support and strength for her husband, but also show that to have that kind of strength does not mean you have to be devoid of gentleness of feminity. “