“The idea of a movie on Saadat Hasan Manto came about during his centenary year celebrations in 2012 and as a tribute to him”, disclosed Sarmad Sultan Khoosat who has directed the film and also played the title role.
There was a great change of medium, from translating the writings into a TV series and then the movie, Sarmad said, adding that the portrayal of a man larger than life had to be on a medium no less than cinema.
During a talk at the Last Word, actor/director Sarmad Khoosat, actress Sania Saeed and singer Meesha Shafi came together to discuss the film set to release on Sept 11.
Sarmad said when he had decided to cut a film out of the TV series that he had made, many others agreed with his idea. But with change of the medium from television into cinema, came the arduous task of recreating almost everything, sound, for instance, had to be reproduced and it needed a soundtrack, he added.
“The story is essentially about necrophilia. So you cannot take away the darkness from it,” adds Sarmad.
“It is brutal. I have sublimated a lot in that sequence and I replaced it with metaphors for understanding of what was being said. Necrophilia, for instance, would probably be the angst of that era.”
Sarmad Khoosat said Manto had a ‘shocking quality’ for his readers, saying, “He would lure you down a dark alley and suddenly hit you hard.”
He said he had immersed himself into Manto in order to make a holistic sense of the character. He considered the movie a tribute from him to the legendary Urdu writer and hoped for an international release.
“After all, Manto belongs to India as well as Pakistan as he spent more than half of his life in Bombay and he is read more in the Hindi script than in Urdu.”
Sarmad said he was not sure the movie would change the mindset of people regarding Manto because he was still a controversial writer and unaccepted in Pakistani society.
He lauded Sania and Nimra Bucha for their support during the shooting of the film.
“It was a radical step in itself to have a woman (Bucha) play the other self of a man (Manto) and we needed good acting chemistry for it to happen too,” he said.
Actor Sania Saeed, who played the role Manto’s wife, Safia, said that despite the understated character, her role was difficult and challenging.
“Here was a woman who was not very emotive or dramatic yet at the same time she lived with a very difficult man and I had to consciously cut myself off from reading Manto because as a writer he was very different from the man. I found out that I was understanding him, not sympathising with him and he was not one of those who wanted to be sympathised with,” Sania said.
Sania added that when she first read Khol Do – a shocking tale of repeated rape – she could closely identify with the victim in the story.
“I allowed myself to be taken away by him and see whatever he wanted to show me. From a feminist point of view, he emancipates you as a woman. He helps you see the people around you who are usually ignored but are very much there. He makes you see that everyone is a human being.”
For the movie, Meesha Shafi has sung the song, Punjabi poet Shiv Kumar Batalvi’s Mehram Dilaan Dey Mahi, which was originally sung by Surinder Kaur.
“The song was literally recorded in the dark,” she said. “It is a very sensual experience and at the same time extremely depressing too. The use of red colour has given it a sense of passion and ultimately the song reflects all that is hard to digest.”