Nandita Das’s hugely-anticipated film Manto, based on the life of controversial author Saadat Hasan Manto, is burning bright at Cannes. Being in the works for more than a year, the film was finally screened in the competitive Un Certain Regard section, where it received a standing ovation.
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Festival delegate Thierry Fremaux introduced Das, and her 22-member crew, who all made it to the stage to bask in the glowing response to the film. When Fremaux noted the unusual size of the film’s contingent, Das quickly responded with “it’s India.”
Manto, starring Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Rasika Dugal, Chandan Roy Sanyal and Tahir Raj Bhasin – follows the life of the controversial writer for about four years. This was the period when he wrote some of his most unapologetic afsaane (stories) like Thanda Gosht & Toba Tek Singh. This was also the time around partition, about which he was equally vocal and saddened.
Early reviews suggest another winning performance from Nawazuddin Siddiqui, someone Nandita Das had in mind since she began work on this ambitious biopic. Das showed a keen eye for detail in her debut feature Firaaq, which also starred Nawazuddin Siddiqui in a small-but-significant role.
Saadat Hasan Manto is known to be one of the most fearless writers of our country. And in an era where the pen is being pressurised and free speech is being threatened – Manto couldn’t be releasing at a more opportune moment.
This is Siddiqui’s 8th appearance at the prestigious film festival, and his first since 2016’s Raman Raghav 2.0. While Nandita Das, who has previously served as a jury member at the world’s most glamorous film festival, is making her debut in the competition for the Palm d’Or.
As the red carpet fashion continues to dominate the senses of the Indian media, it is important to note that Nandita Das’s Manto and Rohena Gera’s Sir, are only two of the four Indian films premiering this year’s Cannes film festival. While they uphold the flag of Indian cinema on foreign shores, is it fair for us to continue to be obsessed about the stars? Maybe not.