NEW DELHI: In the flood of biopics in Bollywood, Nandita Das hopes to stand apart with "Manto", which explores the psyche of the famed short story writer at a time when sectarian violence was at its peak.
Nawazuddin Siddiqui embodies the character of Saadat Hasan Manto in Nandita's second directorial venture, which looks at the author's most turbulent and creative years, beginning from 1946.
Asked why artistes keep revisiting the Partition, Nandita said, "Why we have not forgotten and probably why we should not forget Partition is because we haven't learnt anything from it."
The actor-director said she was more interested in looking at this turbulent history through Manto's eyes.
"Today, it is the same sectarian violence and who suffered then and who's suffering now: common people.
Cyril Radcliffe drew a line that travels perhaps through a village and everything gets broken," she told PTI.
Nandita said it is rare that people use fiction to talk about facts but it is the case with Manto's stories, which draws a real sketch of the time.
Manto was someone who was caught in the middle like many and poured this pain out through his writings, like in Toba Tek Singh, where the crisis of millions is told through a Sikh locked in a mental asylum in Lahore.
"Manto's short story 'Toba Tek Singh' is actually taught in some of the biggest universities of the world. I was shocked when I was at Yale doing a fellowship and I went to the library wondering if I'll find some of Manto's books -- there were 25 books in English, Hindi, Urdu and so many other languages.
"I then started talking to historians at Yale and Harvard and they said they teach 'Toba Tek Singh' and seldom is fiction taught to be a testimony of reality or facts. It's because the way he chronicled the time and so for me, Partition is the backdrop," she said.
The director said she has not directly shown the mass migration, killings, loot and rapes that happened during the Partition but "you see it through how he feels it".
"Through his stories you get a glimpse of it. As a sensitive writer, you see the whole violence in his eyes, almost," she added.
Manto's two daughters -- Nusrat and Nuzhat -- were recently in Mumbai to watch the film at a special premiere and it was an emotional moment for the director who felt an extra responsibility towards the writer's family.
The Urdu writer, who left Mumbai and moved to Pakistan in January 1948, can't be separated into nationalities, she said.
"Manto is a writer who belongs to both India and Pakistan. Let's never break him into nationalities," Nandita said, adding she is keen to see the film release in the neighbouring country.
Nandita said she was surprised to know that not many films have been made in India on the life of writers.
"We have not really celebrated our writers. I tried weaving Manto's stories in the narrative. The line between his work and his life is a bit blurred. You don't know if the character he is writing about really existed or was his creation."
"Manto", also starring Rasika Dugal, Tahir Raj Bhasin, Divya Dutta, Ranvir Shorey and Rishi Kapoor, releases this Friday.