Nandita Das, who will be tracing the life of Sadat Hassan Manto in her new directorial, says actor Irrfan Khan is “seriously looking at the script” as he’s a big fan of the Pakistani short story writer’s body of work.
Nandita will be going behind the camera for the project after having helmed “Firaaq” in 2008. She is elated by the interest shown by Irrfan, who has not only garnered appreciation on home turf but even made his mark internationally.
She hopes her project, which also focuses on the times of partition, will bridge the gap between India and Pakistan. She said: “If a film on Manto can’t bring us together, then which film will?”
“Irrfan is seriously looking at it. He has read the first draft. He fits the role to the T. He speaks fluent Urdu, looks a lot like Manto and above all is a wonderful actor. He himself has read a lot of Manto and is impacted by him. He said, ‘Manto karne ke liye to koi qabar se bhi uth ke aa jae’ (To play Manto one can even get up from the grave). Fingers crossed,” Nandita said.
Manto, who died in 1955 at the age of 43, penned an impressive body of work touching various genres.
He churned out about 22 collections of stories comprising of a novel, essays, personal sketches and movie scripts. Out of his literary gems was a story on Mirza Ghalib, a poet who is oft compared with the stature of Shakespeare. His work also gained attention for weaving stories around the ordeal of partition as well as sexuality.
Pakistani filmmaker Sarmad Sultan Khoosat has made a film titled “Manto”, and it was screened at the 21st Kolkata International Film Festival earlier this month.
Talking about her obsession with the writer, Nandita said: “I first read Manto’s stories in college and found them to be very powerful. When I got into films, I wanted to make short films based on his stories. But reading his essays and knowing about him as a person, I felt his own life was a story worth telling.”
Nandita feels the story is “relevant in today’s times”.
“Whether it is the struggle of freedom of expression or that of identity — be it national religious or gender identity — everybody perceives you in a certain way which also impacts how you look at your own self. Also issues of belonging and displacement are all contemporary and universal.
“So while this is a period film, it is very relevant today. Also, it is a very personal and intimate telling of that period and of the cities of Mumbai and Lahore, through the eyes of an engaged and intense writer.
“In fact, I was struggling how to write a script as one had to let go of so much when you have so much,” said Nandita, who’s co-writing the film with Mir Ali Hussain.
She hopes to shoot the film in Lahore.
“Manto is a project set in Mumbai and Lahore. No Indian or international film that is set in Pakistan has ever been shot there. I really hope I can, to make it more authentic and also to change this perception of fear and animosity. After all they shoot their own films there,” said the actress, who worked in Pakistani film “Ramchand Pakistani”.
She shared the script is near completion, and she hopes it goes on the floors soon.
By Sugandha Rawal