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Quarter Preview: ‘MANTO’

The Good Times GT Magazine (Friday Times) published the official images sent with this write-up, posting the coverage here.

Manto is all the rage these days.

The writer who orbits the South Asian literary stratosphere recently marked his centennial anniversary and now appears as the subject of a new film. It has been directed by Sarmad Sultan Khoosat, who also plays the title character and scripted by Shahid Mahmood Nadeem. Babar Javed produces. Media men & women invited for a first look in August had high expectations.

Contrary to what many thought, this was not a curtain raiser but a quarter preview, and the attendees found themselves at the screening of an extended teaser of ‘MANTO’ - the movie at Nueplex Cinemas – Karachi. The private showing also unveiled trailers of upcoming serials courtesy of GEO Films Production. The figure of Manto himself stays in shadow till 11th September – a day red flagged after 2001, but one that has always been significant for Pakistan and observed as the nation’s founding father's death anniversary. The filmmakers now hope to use the writer’s cinematic debut to change the negative connotations associated with the date.

The screening showcased a musical medley paying tribute to Shiv Kumar Batavi and Mirza Ghalib, and unveiled videos featuring performances by Javed Bashir (‘Kon Hai Yeh Gustakh’), Ali Sethi (‘Aah Ko Chahiye’), and Meesha Shafi (‘Mehram Dillqa De Mahi’). The segment also provided tantalizing glimpses of Sarmad Khoosat’s tormented portrayal of the scribe’s post Partition years – focusing on Manto’s fallibility and undeniable genius. It was a heady brew that underscored the interpretive approach used to stage the period piece and the courage needed to train the spotlight on his pet demons.

Saadat Hasan Manto (1912-1955) was an outlier, known for his dalliances with the bottle and an insouciant disregard for convention. History books paint him as a tragic figure, shrouded in a haze of controversy in his trademark white Kurta – his career eclipsed by ill-health, poverty, and run-ins with the law both in Pre-Partition India and later a newly independent Pakistan. He gazed into the abyss, and often took his readers for an excursion through his polarizing literature. Despite leaving ruffled feathers in his wake, his status as a symbol of resistance earned him many admirers across the divide.

By chronicling the free fall in a biopic, the scriptwriters return to Lahore of yore as seen through the protagonist’s cynical eyes and weave his writings within a compelling soundtrack. This is not an origin story, nor does it pretend to be an escapist fantasy, as evidenced by the inherent darkness and the use of color palettes that capture the melancholy hues and visceral overtones leaving the viewers dazed and a little shaken. Of the four musical presentations, only one by Zeb Bangash & Ali Sethi (‘Kya Ho Ga’) offered some droll humor to lighten the mood.

The large turnout at the event proved that interest in his legacy never waned. The star power was represented by Marina Khan, Aijaz Aslam, Shanaz Ramzi, Hira Tareen, Savera Nadeem, Gohar Rasheed, YBQ etc. The red carpet was also visited by intellectuals like M. Hanif (‘Case of Exploding Mangoes’) and H.M. Naqvi (‘Homeboy’).

M. Hanif whose name also appears in the credits has reportedly penned one song adding to the powerhouse supporting cast, most of which was present at the launch. The MANTO team took a bow but left the speech-making / Q&A session out. They included Sania Saeed as Begum Manto joined by Saba Qamar (Madam Noor Jehan), Nimra Bucha (Manto’s muse), Nadia Afgan, Savera Nadeem, Azfar Rehman, Hina Bayat and the elder Mr. Khoosat. Humayun Saeed and Faisal Qureshi had cameos. The audience noted the clever makeovers and abstract storytelling that transformed Mahira Khan into a Madari and depicted Shamoon Abbasi brandishing a Kirpan.

Sarmad’s risk-taking approach established the artistic parameters ‘MANTO’ aims to explore and hinted at the seismic shifts within the industry that bode well for Pakistani cinema. Whether he has succeeded in breaking new ground will be decided in a few weeks. Painting the portrait of a man of Manto’s stature is a high wire act and requires dexterity and vision. The narrative will reportedly sidestep the politics of the era but the grim subtext might be hard to ignore. His twilight years present an opportunity to look back to a moment in time fondly remembered for its tolerance and sunny optimism. It will be interesting to see Manto’s Pakistan on the wings of his unfettered imagination and debate upon his relevance within a contemporary setting.

As Sarmad Khoosat, whose previous directorial ventures include HUM Tv’s critically acclaimed ‘Humsafar’, moves into serious territory, choosing to bring Manto’s special brand of irreverence to the 21st Century along with him is a dramatic opening gambit. MANTO plans to open nationwide by Fall of 2015.

PR & Event Management by Phegency PR & Events
Red Carpet hosted by Anoushey Ashraf


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