Who is Manto? The man in question is still considered a very controversial personality in Pakistan even though it has been six decades since he has ceased to exist. Vulgarities, alcoholism, unpatriotic and rebellious are the some words associated with the masterful storyteller. “Manto-The Film” is a powerful story about a very enigmatic personality and is filled with deep political and social undertones. It’s safe to say that this movie is a complete Sarmad Khoosat brainchild and Mr Khoosat did a splendid job as the lead actor and director.

In essence the movie is not a conventional bio-pic but this adds to the overall feel of the film. The famed Saadat Hasan Manto short-stories are visually depicted like “Thanda Gosht”, “Toba Tek Singh”, “Peshawar se Lahore tak” and others and this definitely heightens the intense vibe while also contributing to the story. Any story about Manto is incomplete without any historical context and post-partition era Lahore. The director does a fine job in illustrating that with scenes showing YMCA hall meetings, Pak Tea House Debates and the environment of 1953 Lahore Curfew. Sania Saeed does a remarkable job as Manto’s wife and the film is packed with short cameos by some of the stars from Pakistani television industry. Saba Qamar shines as the legendary “Noor Jahan” and the likes of Irfan Khoosat, Faysal Qureshi and Nimra Bucha also display some acting chops.

The first half of the film was near perfect with the right amount of pacing and emotion but one could argue that maybe after intermission things were rather on the slow side a bit. Maybe some emotional aspects didn’t resonate that much towards the end. But overall this was seriously some powerful and gripping stuff.

Yes it’s bleak and No “Manto” is not a social message but rather it’s a story of Manto, his thoughts, his ideas, his troubles with censorship and the mutating ideology of the state, his family and with a very strong emotional core at the heart of it all. The Pakistani Cinema revival is on steroids with some really good movies coming out every month. “Manto” maybe not every one’s cup of tea but for those of us who prefer a thought provoking story and a well-crafted movie “Manto” is what you need to see.

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