Nandita Das’s ‘Manto’ is looking better and better each time it makes the news. First, she got Nawazuddin Siddiqui to play the lead. Then she roped in the inimitable Shabana Azmi, and Javed Akhtar, to be part of the film. And now, Nandita is kicking things up a notch by insisting the cast learn Urdu.
Saadat Hasan Manto was one of the finest Urdu writers in the history of the Indian subcontinent. As anyone who’s ever read his stories will tell you, reading Manto’s works is a life-altering thing. It’s only fair that a cinematic representation of his life and times honor the language he used so beautifully to weave his stories.
Actors Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Rasika Dugal will be taking lessons in Urdu, as will the rest of the cast.
Bollywood has an annoying habit of cutting corners. That’s why we have so many songs where the Urdu word for God (Khuda) is pronounced as the Hindi word for a hole in the ground (khuda).
Rasika, who plays Manto’s wife, Safia, has this to say about learning Urdu,
I am thoroughly enjoying learning Urdu. It’s almost therapeutic to learn a new language. It’s also a very good getaway from the madness that living in Mumbai comes with. But most importantly, it helps me read Manto’s works in the language that they were written in, so I can pick up the nuances, and not lose anything in translation. Nandita had suggested that I do this and she gifted me an entire volume of Manto’s works in Urdu to get me started.
It is a refreshing change to see an Indian filmmaker go the extra mile. Looks like Nandita Das is nothing if not a perfectionist! And those of us who love languages, and appreciate the power words can wield, are eternally grateful for it.