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Posted at: May 5, 2017, 7:32 PM; last updated: May 5, 2017, 7:35 PM (IST)MOVIE REVIEW: MANTOSTAAN

Manto undone

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Manto undone
A still from Mantostaan

Johnson Thomas

The horrors of partition have been well documented in several books but precious few films (Tamas, Train to Pakistan, Garm Hawa) have managed to get the agony of those heart-rending days captured on cinema.

Revered Urdu writer Sadat Hassan Manto has been amongst the foremost to chronicle the aftershocks of India-Pakistan partition in his short stories that highlight the inhumanity of man given the opportunity and freedom to wreak havoc on his fellow men and director Rahat Kazmi cannot be faulted for his choice of stories. The four short stories he chooses from Manto’s pantheon of revered works are befitting and bear significance even in today’s less turbulent times - given the incessant hostilities raging forth between India and Pakistan to this day.

Riots, communal flare-ups, cold-blooded culling, rape and retribution are all indelible elements of partition stories. Manto’s writing is powerful and even with the substandard treatment that director Rahat Kazmi employs to tell the stories, its resonance is strongly felt. It’s the adaptation of the four stories and the form it takes in Kazmi’s cinematic tribute that causes heartburn here. 

‘Khol Do’ has a father-daughter duo fleeing to Lahore, losing each other en route and then meeting up when it’s too late for the consequences of inhumanity to be undone. In ‘Assignment’, a paralysed Muslim, former judge (Veerendra Saxena) holds out hope that his loving and caring Hindu friends will protect him and his family from any rampaging mob baying for his blood, but in vain.  

‘Aakhri Salute’ is about  a Pakistani soldier (Rahat Kazmi) meeting up with his childhood friend, engaging with each other in friendly banter and firing and inevitably hitting on an unintended target. ‘Thanda Ghosht’ the most blood-curdling of the four stories has Ishan Singha (Shoib Shah) revel in dastardliness before being forced to reveal the truth to his wife (Sonal Sehgal). 

The stories reveal the extent of darkness deep within all of us and are certainly not meant to be an easy watch. Kazmi’s attempts to justify his selection and link up all the four stories through intercutting doesn’t allow enough room for each of the stories to take shocking effect. Also the stilted performance, the languid pace and the sheer lack of tension in the telling leaves you untouched by the remorselessness on show here.

Given the turbulent geo-political situation of the region, the ongoing hostilities between India and Pakistan and the rise of fascist and communal forces around the world, this film could well have developed enough linkages between the past and present to be powerful denouement of inhumanity. Unfortunately it doesn’t quite work that way. There’s hardly any connect in the experience and what little affection you feel for the work is mainly because of Manto’s storytelling brilliance. Kazmi should have worked harder on the script and treatment. No doubt about that!

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