There’s clearly an aura of refreshing candour around Nawazuddin Siddique and Nandita Das. They are also similar in ways more than one - their love for real cinema and aversion to being up, close and personal on social media. Roughly a decade later; they are back again with Manto, a feature film, which aims to convey just exactly what the protagonist (Manto) has been known for honesty, conviction and the social impact it can bring about. The movie is slated for its India release today. In a candid chat, we find out more.
This movie is a miracle: Nandita Das, took close to five years to put this together. But, the director with an eye for detail couldn’t have asked for a better timing. “Given there’s a collective fear about speaking your mind today, I think it is our collective responsibility to do something about it.
The freedom of speech was never abused, but there’s also a need to use the medium of cinema to put forth a very important point: how important it is to say the right thing. The whole process was a very enriching experience,” states Nandita.
For movies like these, there’s a certain rapport which needs to be developed between the actor-director. And, Nandita believes her equation with Nawaz is best described as healthy. “I know a lot of people keep asking Nawaz about how it feels to work with a female director. He has told them that he sees me as just a director. That’s what I like about him, he’s very clear, not iffy about things. He was my first choice, and though I wanted to keep it under wraps, I blurted out the idea to him way back in 2013 and he said yes without batting an eyelid. That aside, Nawazuddin is a natural actor, it doesn’t take much for him to melt into a character. But, there are aspects to his role that needed guidance and I was there for him. He got his first significant break in Firaaq. The only thing, which has visibly changed since then is that he’s now a huge star. But, we’re very good friends and he’s a thorough professional, who sees me as just a director. It took us a long time for the story to be put together. As a writer, I tweaked a lot of it, and we’ve all grown with this script. Nawaz could give us only two months of his time, but given he’s a huge star and people love him, we knew we had to make this happen.”
Quite like most movies, the film had a lot of speculation around it, with Nawazuddin going on record that he shares eerily strange similarities with Manto. “I don’t think it’s filmy when I tell people that I share qualities with Manto, because we have not glorified his role. The character has not been put on a pedestal. He was a writer who struck a chord and stirred up a social impact. There is no jazz around it. We tell the story of the character by throwing light on his dark side to it his anger issues, arrogance and egoistic nature. I too am very temperamental. But, I cannot stay angry for long.” The whole concept of doing a biopic arose out of the realisation that there is a dearth of good content in Indian cinema. “ Of course, if there isn’t good content left, people are going to make biopics,” he quips, only to add, “I’m lucky this role came my way as i’ve always felt it’s every successful actor’s responsibility to do cinemas of substance. Manto is an unsung hero, he wasn’t a celebrity or a renowned figure. I’m not doing the biopic of an icon, so there was more learning than any frills.”
Nawaz, who has four love stories in the pipeline, is quite the experimentalist. Speaking of the same he says, “Yes, there’s a lot happening on the work front. But, I like to take things easy. I don’t expect too much.” That said, he implies that he is optimistic but unperturbed about the way Manto will be received. “ I can only vouch for the honesty we have put into making this film. Beyond a point, you can’t do much. We’d love for people to watch it, but if they don’t, they are missing out. It’s their loss. But, I’m also aware of diverse preferences. I’m not going to force a tea drinker to sip on coffee. Likewise, I won’t expect people to watch it. Yes, there is going to be a sense of discomfort if you don’t like cinema with substance,” he concludes.