Manto

wogma rating: Even the keen, wait for it to come on TV/online (?)

quick review:

A dispassionate narration might seem like an unbiased view but comes across as dry. It’s still a decent watch to get a glimpse of the man’s life.

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Director: Nandita Das
Running time: 115 minutes
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Like most biographical films, Manto feels like it is just skin deep, barely uncovering the outer layer of a complex human being. Unlike most biographical films, Manto is not interested in portraying the man as a hero. He is what he is. Like him, hate him, just don’t ignore him.

The complex material was handily available to the writer.

A misunderstood man, a man who had no doubts about the power of his words, a man ahead of his times, a man who felt for the world but fell short in showing his love to his family. This was the handy material available to the writer. And she pretty much sews these bits together without much ado. That turns out to be both a boon and a bane for the film. While it keeps the film away from drama and prejudice, the same style makes the film a dry watch too.

It helps that the actors are all top notch. Could any of the complexities we are exposed to, come through to us, were it not for Nawazuddin Siddiqui? Sure, there are many actors who could have taken on the mettle. But then he is as good as any of them. Interestingly, his distant gaze that brings out the mysticism around the character, seems like an easy enough job. But, the feeling that the writer, Manto did his best to mask his vulnerabilities even while his helplessness was on display, is an act very few could have pulled off.

It is unsurprising this specific mix of actors chose to work on this project. From Ranveer Shorey to Ila Arun and Javed Akhtar to Rishi Kapoor and Neeraj Kabi, all would want to be a part of a film, however small it may be, about a rebel artist. Manto is equally a commentary on the impact of the India-Pakistan partition on the lives of the common people in 1947as it is a finger pointed at the little change from then to times today. This bit is unmissable even though it is a deduction as a viewer, not once highlighted by the film itself.

While the restrain exercised to not spell it out clearly and not give in to the temptation is applaudable, it could also be the reason for Manto, the film seeming too plain a narrative. The monotonous sepia tone doesn’t help. Neither does it help that you come out feeling, there was much more to the man that was left out. Maybe it is impossible to cover one human being completely in a couple of hours, that too one with the stature and persona of Manto. But, this one felt like it just scratched the surface.

- meeta, a part of the audience

25 reviewers(?) - 18 yays 6 so-so 1 nays

Warning: clicking on "full review" will take you to an external website that could contain spoilers.

Thumbs up, by Bobby Sing, Bobby Talks Cinema.com : ...But above all, one would have to accept the truth that as a film, MANTO would honestly make more sense, forming an emotionally deep impact with only a selected section of viewers and not everyone in the theater.... full review

Thumbs up, by Subhash K Jha, Bolly Spice : ...Manto is a work of many virtues and minor vices. On the negative side, the Lahore portions in the second-half lack the pulsating seductiveness of the Mumbai episode where the beau monde comes alive in scattered montages of teasing hedonism .... full review

Thumbs up, by Shaheen Irani, Deccan Chronicle : ...So, like expected, Nandita brings out the best storyline, screenplay as well as performances from each of her actors. And of course, Nawazuddin makes the film a worth watch with Tahir and Rasika also giving their best to their respective roles. Rishi Kapoor, Tillotama Shome, Divya Dutta, Gurdas Maan, Shashank Arora, Paresh Rawal, Ranvir Shorey, Rajshri Deshpande, Chandan Roy Sanyal, even though for a brief period of time, leave an impactful mark.... full review

Thumbs up, by Rahul Desai, Film Companion : ...While each of the stories give us different portions of his mind to form a whole, they take from him until there’s no mind left. Toba Tek Singh, in particular, is exemplary of this condition. A few weeks ago, I was unmoved by Ketan Mehta’s 75-minute web film adaptation starring Pankaj Kapur. Today, after recognizing when and how it might have been conceived – context – it becomes more than just a story; it becomes a voice, a time, and most importantly, a real person. Because for Manto, literature is merely the language of madness.... full review

Thumbs up, by Devesh Sharma, Filmfare : ...All that aside, it's a faithful recreation of the life and times of one of Indian subcontinent's literary giants whose writings are still as relevant today as they were then. The real tribute to Manto would be if inspired by the film, people go back to reading him, to reading Chughtai and other greats and also learn a little more about the Partition and it's gory aftermath....... full review

Thumbs up, by Anna MM Vertticad, FirstPost : ...The messaging in this film is for us to imbibe if we wish, as she chronicles a remarkable, dramatic true story in an engagingly unmelodramatic style. In doing so, Das makes her Manto a stirring, sensitive portrait of a tortured genius from an era seemingly long past yet tragically mirroring our troubled present.... full review

Thumbs up, by Devansh Sharma, FirstPost : ...Nandita retains this honesty, and even celebrates it. She also spells out the consequences brutally. Her latest piece of work may not be for the masses, but that in no way robs her film of any merit.... full review

Thumbs up, by Johnson Thomas, Free Press Journal : ...While Nandita Das’ debut directorial effort Firaaq – on the riots in Gujarat left us wounded and questioning our own gullibility towards incendiary indoctrination and inhumaneness towards our fellow humans, her ‘Manto’ takes us back in time to shed light on the history behind that hatred. Since the focus here is not the riots during partition, but the wounds inflicted by harsh words and pernicious interpretations, it may not be as wounding. But the depth and affect are just as strong and hurtful. Manto’s troubled personality finds a voice in Nawazuddin’s interpretation of it. The sepia-tinged cinematography by Karthik Vijay, the period-specific production design by Rita Ghosh, almost seamless editing by A Sreekar Prasad, costume design by Sheetal Sharma, make-up by Shrikant Desai and music appropriate to a bygone era by Sneha Khanvilkar, makes this experience of a tragic life that much more fascinating and engaging.... full review

Thumbs up, by Raja Sen, Hindustan Times : ...The film, however, lacks flow. Das directs with affection but can’t seem to enforce consistency. The Bombay portions feel like clips from a highlight reel, yet these scenes are buoyed by lyricism and spirit, even though the editing is choppy and some moments flash by too hurriedly.... full review

Thumbs up, by Suhani Singh, india today : ...Siddiqui looks the part and for the most part, feels it too. But the real joy of Das's film is to see its supporting characters, most of them based on real-life stars, make brief appearances. From Rajshri Deshpande as the teasing and vibrant Ismat Chugtai and Bhanu Uday as the suave Ashok Kumar, the film thrives in the moments these colourful characters occupy the Manto landscape.... full review

Thumbs up, by Umesh Punwani, koimoi : ...All said and done, Manto is like a whiskey which pures your soul, it might give you a dry mouth afterwards but isn’t that a sign of one fine alcohol? Watch this for brilliant performances, gutsy direction & writing, a never seen before Mumbai and hardships of a man who chose to portray the truth in his style.... full review

Thumbs up, by Saibal Chatterjee, NDTV : ...Each of the technicians - cinematographer Kartik Vijay, sound designer Resul Pookutty, editor A. Sreekar Prasad and production designer Rita Ghosh - adds sparkle to this fond, essential tribute to a man who eventually destroyed himself - Manto died at the age of 42 seven years after Partition - in the quest to pull the subcontinent out of its state of denial during the birth pangs of two nations.... full review

Thumbs up, by Rohit Vats, News18.com : ...It’s a film that will make you think, hurt you and will bring you back to your ideals. Nawazuddin Siddiqui has stripped himself of all the apprehensions and has dived into Manto’s world with unmatched energy, wit and personality. Far from Wasseypur, he has transformed into a writer who has lost everything in the No Man’s Land between India and Pakistan.... full review

Thumbs up, by Manisha Lakhe, Now Running.com : ...Nandita Das has made excellent directorial choices in the film, whether it is with the cast or with the writing. Zakir Hussain's music is haunting. Yes, including the most popular of his stories in the film is like taking the easy way out, but the result is fabulous two hour watch.... full review

Thumbs up, by Sreehari Nair, Rediff : ...This imperfection in the film, in a way, becomes the greatest tribute to Manto.... full review

Thumbs up, by Troy Ribeiro, Sify Movies : ...Overall, Manto, rooted in history, is a treat to watch.... full review

Thumbs up, by Namrata Joshi, The Hindu : ...Nandita Das’ film underlines the continued relevance of Manto’s words whether to do with Hindu-Muslim unity or freedom of expression. Most of all, it’s about his aching love for a city he felt most at home in.... full review

Thumbs up, by Sharad Raj, Upper Stall : ...That said, Nandita, by and large seems well in control of her subject matter and ably leads an inspired cast and crew. Encapsulating Manto in under two hours was never going to be easy but Nandita, as I mentioned earlier, has nevertheless succeeded in making Manto one of the more purposeful films of our time. Especially, as we see what the country is going through today.... full review

So-So, by Dishya Sharma, Bollywood Life : ...If you know who Manto is and what his works have been about, then Manto serves a good watch. If you’re willing to research and head to the cinemas then be my guest. Otherwise, you might get bored.... full review

So-So, by Meena Iyar, DNA : ...Verdict: If biopics or Manto float your boat, check this one out.... full review

So-So, by Shubhra Gupta, indian express : ...There are some striking moments in the film, but they remain moments: a soiree with Ashok Kumar and other popular stars of the 40s is particularly lovely. Dugal, as Manto’s pillar of strength, shines, and Bhasin’s Shyam is vivid and alive.... full review

So-So, by Kunal Guha, Mumbai Mirror : ...Manto famously defended his work which was deemed audacious, even if regarded by many as the atrocious truth, by saying that if one can’t bear his words, the times must be unbearable. This cinematic version of his life and works, however, is far from unbearable but it’s surely too staid for someone with such a vivid imagination. Let’s just say, we would’ve much rather preferred a hagiography.... full review

So-So, by Shilpa Jamkhandikar, Reuters : ...This is a sketchy biopic, which might resonate with those who are already familiar with Manto’s life and want to see it enacted on celluloid.... full review

So-So, by Renuka Vyavahare, Times of India : ...Manto is an authentic but jaded observation of a man who defied rules, challenged the status quo and changed the way one looked at life. Watch it for the director's flawless interweaving of Manto's poignant writing into her script and watch it for the words — spoken and unspoken.... full review

Thumbs down, Bollywood Hungama : ...On the whole, MANTO has its moments and makes an important comment which is relevant in today’s times. However, the second half is weak and the film overall is too niche. Hence, it won’t appeal to the mainstream audience and this would affect its box office performance.... full review

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This page has additional observations, other than the ones noted in the main review.

Parental Guidance:

  • Violence: Violence in language and story
  • Language: A few abusive words
  • Nudity & Sexual content: Description of rape, scenes with prostitution, one making out scene
  • Concept: Famous writer, Manto’s life
  • General Look and Feel: A monotonous-seeming, serious sepia tone

Detailed Ratings (out of 5):

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