Since its first screening at Cannes last year, people across the subcontinent have been eagerly waiting to watch Manto.
Directed by Nandita Das with Gangs of Wassaypur star Nawazuddin Siddiqui in the lead role, the film has received critical acclaim at numerous film festivals and at its premiere in India.
However, on Sunday, it was rumoured that the film would not be released in Pakistan, with people complaining that till a week ago the film was showing up on the ‘coming soon section’ of several cinema websites but was no longer there.
Earlier, the film’s director had tweeted that they were in the process of screening the film in Pakistan. “#Manto@MantoFilm coverage from across the border, we’re working towards releasing the film in Pakistan soon!” she wrote.
Talking to Dawn, chairman of the federal censor board Danyal Gilani said that so far no importer had approached the board for clearance.
“There are many importers of movies in Pakistan. Difficult to tell offhand what are their thoughts about a specific movie,” he said.
A source at the provincial censor board also confirmed this. Nadeem Mandviwalla of Atrium Cinema said that nothing had been confirmed by any distributor yet.
Discussing Manto’s work, author and critic Aslam Farrukhi said that Manto was controversial — not because of what people categorised as pornographic content but because of its subversive nature.
“It is the politics — that aspect of Manto is very important. In Pakistan, he becomes Indian and across the border they say at the end of the day, he was a Pakistani,” he said, adding that even today Manto was a very relevant and important short story writer.
“I teach young people and I find that they react to him in a positive manner. Ismat Chughtai was bold and daring. She broke norms and so did Manto,” said Mr Farrukhi.
Talking to Dawn via email, Manto’s grandson Mohammad Farooq said that he had been invited by the film’s director to attend the premiere with his mother and aunt but was unable to do so because of visa complications.
Mr Farooq — who is a journalist by profession — said that his mother Nuzhat (Manto’s second daughter) and Nusrat had attended the premiere and liked the movie a lot.
“They were accorded a warm welcome on their four-day visit to Mumbai and New Delhi and said the movie covered some years of his life before Partition in Bombay and after it in Lahore,” he said.
He added that both women liked the reprisal of Nawazuddin Siddiqui in the lead role as Manto. “The movie blended in elements of his iconic works on partition, according to them,” he said.
Talking about his grandfather’s representation in the media, Mr Farooq said: “I can’t speak for my mother and aunt, but I always have issues with how Manto was portrayed on television and the cinematic screen.”
As highlighted in an article in LiveMint, “Sarmad Khoosat’s misrepresentation of Safia receiving money from a courtesan for Manto’s hospital treatment was fictionalised and wrongly depicted”.
“In an era of fake news, the infinite flow of information on websites and other publications can’t be debunked. It is a fruitless exercise whereby any quote can be assigned to Manto or any other writer and be passed as genuine. So I don’t bother authenticating such information, since it is too cumbersome,” said Mr Farooq.
Discussing if Manto had faced the same challenges he faced in the early days of partition, Mr Farooq said that the challenges would have been multi-fold.
“Considering the dissemination of information in a jiffy, Manto would have faced enormous dangers. His stories depicted the reality of society and the filth associated with it, anything revealing or exposing like Manto was able to do, would pinch and antagonise those who couldn’t digest the truth,” he explained.
Originally published in Dawn, September 25th, 2018