Manto is not a writer, but an idea that he represents – ‘Mantoiyat’: Nandita Das

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Celebrated actor, filmmaker and social advocate Nandita Das was in conversation with the noted scriptwriter and teacher of cinema, Anjum Rajabali on her debut book – Manto and I at Crossword Bookstores in Mumbai. An unforgettable evening unfurled as the author discussed her book that took the audience through the journey of making her film Manto, based on one of the most progressive writers of the century – Saadat Hasan Manto.

Living up to the hype and frenzy ahead of the event, the store witnessed bibliophiles and avid fans of Nandita Das lined up at the store well before the event could begin. Making it worthwhile for everyone present, the author shared insights and interesting anecdotes that went behind making the film and writing the book.

After the release of her feature film Manto, Nandita Das set out on a journey of creating a book as an extension of her relationship with Saadat Hasan Manto, his enduring ideals in today’s world and her journey with the film. The book captures the film’s conceptualisation, its journey and the bond Das formed with Manto’s family. The book also features notes on casting, music, production design, the many little decisions and happenstances that go into making a film and what it eventually becomes.

Discussing her latest book, Nandita Das shares, “I somehow don’t seem to be tired of talking about Manto. For me, Manto is not just a man or a writer, but an idea that he represents – ‘Mantoiyat’. He possessed this amazing will to just be truthful, courageous and free-spirited and I think, for me, that resonated so deeply that it was one of the first reasons I decided to make a film on Manto. I started reading Manto not as a filmmaker but just as somebody who was interested in that time and the man. I was fascinated by how he had stuck his neck out and how he was so compelled to tell the truth at the cost of his family and the cost of his own wellbeing. I was itching to respond to what was happening around me, but to find that right story that would not polarise the conversation further was a challenge. But I think telling Manto’s story provided me with an opportunity of talking about something which happened 70 years ago and yet we would be able to see that we haven’t learned anything from history.”

Published by Aleph Book Company, the coffee-table book tells two intertwined stories of exploration and refuge, of the times that were, to the times we are living in. Discussing the excitements, the challenges, and all that it took the author to make the film, she shares her emotional, political, and spiritual experiences of the six years spent with Manto.

For Das, Manto & I is not just a celebration of the man or the writer, but a celebration of the idea of ‘Mantoiyat’ — the will to be free-spirited, honest and courageous.

Readers can grab their copies of ‘Manto & I’ by Nandita Das at the nearest Crossword Bookstores.

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