Interview: Meet Rasika Dugal aka Manto's wife in the Nandita Das biopic featuring Nawazuddin Siddiqui

Rasika Dugal is playing the character of Manto's wife, Safia Manto in the Nandita Das biopic on the popular writer. Read what she has to say about the film

The Hindi biopic of one of the most celebrated South Asian writers, Saadat Hassan Manto is being made by Nandita Das. The film is quite an anticipated one because of many reasons. It chronicles the life of a writer whose work questioned the usual and showed vibrancy of fearless writing. Another reason adding to the curiosity is Nawazuddin Siddiqui playing the main character. The actor has invested so much of himself into the role that, by his own admission, he had been eating the same diet that the writer used to have and also, talking the way he did, living in a room furnished with things that Manto used to have in his room.

Now there’s a new addition to the film’s cast. Actress Rasika Dugal, who has featured in a few independent films along with Bollywood films like Anwar, Kshay, and Qissa, is playing the role of Manto’s wife, Safia Manto in the biopic. The actress has currently shot for a day’s sequence and will join the team again after a few days to complete her part. For Rasika, there’s no set formula of approaching her characters. When she was offered Manto, she said she has already been learning Urdu because of her love for the language. Busy reading various works of the short-story writer as part of her homework for the role, the actress talked to InUth over phone from Mumbai. From her views on the work of the writer to her experience of being a part of the film, Rasika opened up on many things. Here are the excerpts:

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Nawazuddin Siddiqui in Manto

On her preparation for the film:

The story of the film goes from 1946 to 1955 and it’s about how the life of Manto’s family changes due to the course of events during partition (Indo-Pak partition of 1947). There’s so much to read about this phase already. And there’s so much to read about Manto himself. Like a journalist had asked me about what was I reading. I told her that I was reading this collection of five volumes collection called Dastavez. And in one of the essays, Manto has written about why he wrote about prostitutes and the obscenity charges that were leveled against him. She asked me to read the book where he had written about the film industry. He was friends with Ashok Kumar, Shyam Chadha and others who were popular in the industry then. He used to write about their affairs and their interaction with women. The book is called Stars From Another Sky and I am about to read it because that will give me a perception into the lighter side of Manto and his work. Any amount of research is not enough. So, I am preparing by reading whatever I can before the film wraps up and then there are things that Nandita has given me to read.

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On the references she has taken to play Manto’s wife:

There’s very little material about her even in his writings. But, Nandita, in her research, had spent a lot of time with Manto’s family. So, she has given me a lot of anecdotal information which is not there in any book. She had also spent considerable time with his daughters. And with Safia’s sister and Ayesha Jalal, Manto’s niece. All that have already been incorporated in the script.

On how substantiate is her character in the film:

She is a pretty integral part of the film. You possibly and hopefully will get to see another side of Manto through her. I don’t know how to exactly define her characteristics at this stage but if I was to give you an overall picture, she is both very vulnerable and strong at the same time.

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On how much was she aware of Manto and his work before the film was offered:

Actually, I had read a lot of Manto’s work and also read the work by the progressive writers who wrote about Manto at that time. I had read Krishen Chandar, Rajinder Singh Bedi and I am familiar with their kind of writing and I like the fact that their writings had a distinct sense of humour. I was actually studying Urdu as well, by myself, before the film was offered.

Nandita Das IANS photo for

Nandita Das (Courtesy: IANS)

On Nandita Das:

I have been in an awe of her. She’s lovely in many ways. I like how well she articulates herself and is confident in the stands she takes. Also, she knows what she wants and for a director to have that quality is very important. If a filmmaker knows exactly how his/ her picture has to come out, then only he/she be able to instruct you and guide you towards that. In her case, what’s also interesting is to see that because she herself is an actor, you will realise she preps up a scene from the perspective of both the director and the actor. She makes the lives of her actors easier in that sense.

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Nawazuddin Siddiqui on his preparation for the role of Saadat Hasan Manto.

Nawazuddin Siddiqui on his preparation for the role of Saadat Hasan Manto.

On Nawazuddin Siddiqui:

Nawaz is very relaxed. I find very enjoyable to shoot with him. We have a fun relationship. He looks little intense but he’s very chilled out. If I have a question about a scene or a line, I know I can always turn to him and ask for help.

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