BHUBANESWAR: It is the ideology of Saadat Hasan Manto that formed the foundation of ‘Manto’, said director of the biopic Nandita Das.
In a session on ‘Partitions of the Mind: Why Manto’s Words Live’ at the Odisha Literary Festival, Nandita discussed Manto who captured the anguish of Partition in his writings and artistic expression along with the idea of artistic freedom with senior journalist Kaveree Bamzai.
“I am often asked this: ‘Why Manto?’ While the country celebrated Independence, he wrote about sex workers and people in the fringes of society for whom Independence did not mean much. He knew their lives are not going to change, their struggles are not going to end. The situation is pertinent even today,” said the activist-turned actress.
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She described Manto as a contemporary writer who wrote ahead of his times and was tried for obscenity in his writings six times.
“But the same writings are celebrated today,” said Nandita, who released ‘Manto’ exactly a year back on September 21.
The discussion then, and naturally, veered to artistic freedom in films and art and Nandita said art cannot be defined in a narrow sense.
“Art by its nature is fluid. It allows us to express. For many, films are synonymous with entertainment but for me, films should have a meaning, a reason. Films at a sub-conscious level get into our psyche and impact our response to a situation,” said the actress, who has done 40 films with directors including Mrinal Sen, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Shyam Benegal, Deepa Mehta, and Mani Ratnam in her 23-year career in the Indian film industry.
Acting or directing films were never a part of her design, she revealed. Beginning her career as an activist, she stumbled into the world of films and one thing led to another.
For her, a film has never been about her role but always about the story that it has to tell. Ten years after doing ‘Firaaq’, based on Gujarat Riots, Das decided to a do a film on Saadat Hasan Manto.
“I connect with his ideology, the idea of Mantoiyat which represents freedom, being free-spirited, carefree and honest. We all have Mantoiyat in us. I saw Mantoiyat in poet Jayanta Mahapatra today,” she said. Nandita wrote the script after six years of research on the Urdu writer.
Stating that commercial cinema was never meant for her, Nandita said she was never exposed to Bollywood during childhood and it was only during her college that her tryst with cinema began where she was introduced to a different wave of cinema.
“I was an activist but I entered cinema because it was also a strong medium to express ideas,” recalled Nandita, who first appeared in ‘Parinati’, directed by Prakash Jha in 1987.
To questions on women-centric films and independent voices in the film industry, she said men have always controlled the narrative of both men and women in Indian cinema.
Although the industry is witnessing a change now, it still has a long way to go, she said adding, negativity in television boosts TRPs in the current times.
“We do not yet have movies on Rabindranath Tagore, Fakir Mohan Senapati and Gopinath Mohanty. Instead, films are made on gangsters and dons and they sell,” said Nandita, who is currently doing a Telugu movie ‘Virata Parvam’ on the Naxalite movement along with Rana Daggubati and Sai Pallavi.
She will also be releasing a two-minute anthem ‘India’s Got Colour’ on September 25. The anthem is a re-invention of her 2013 campaign, Dark is Beautiful and celebrates women of all skin colours.