In an era when reading is becoming obsolete, actor/director Nandita Das is all set to make a movie on the life of one of pre-Partition India’s finest writers — Saadat Hasan Manto. It is an homage that’s been a long time coming. Manto’s stories were poignant, his writing unparalleled.
Manto spoke truth to power, and even more importantly, to the masses. He said it like it was, and no subject was too dark, too taboo, for him to explore. Manto rifled through human experiences and laid bare the things one usually tries to avoid exposing in polite company, like the barbarism that runs through a mob, or the effect one night with a woman can have on a person. Manto talked about the things we routinely sweep under the carpet, and he was brilliant at it.
A movie about a man who challenged the very notion of shame and courage, and right and wrong, is one this country badly needs. And Nandita Das is the perfect person to tell this story, because in her twenty-odd years as actor/director she has, in her own way, been carrying on Manto’s work of telling stories that make us uncomfortable, shake us out of our complacent stupor, and compel us to think.
In a recent interview, Das announced that they would start shooting the film, ‘Manto’, in about three months’ time. The very talented Nawazuddin Siddiqui will be seen playing the lead role. However, Das was stunned by the fact that none of the young “stars” were willing to play the role of Manto’s best friend, Shyam, who, in his day, was a huge star with his super-hit film ‘Dillagi’. Shyam died in a horse-riding accident at the height of his career when he was only 36.
In the interview, Nandita Das expressed her disappointment at not being able to find one young actor brave enough to take on the role of Shyam. She said,
Naively, I thought that known young charming actors, wanting to play the layered character of Shyam, would be in abundance.
It turns out, none of the actors she approached were willing to play second-fiddle to Nawazuddin Siddiqui.
Their sole reason for declining was that Shyam would be seen as the “second lead”.
What a sad state of affairs it is, that actors are willing to give up being part of a great story simply because they so crave the spotlight. They would rather play the lead in a mediocre film than be part of something that could be extraordinary.
That’s always how it is with us Indians, isn’t it? The cricketer who bats for himself, the hockey player who cares more about his personal ranking that that of the team, the actor who acts for the fame and money and not for the sake of honing his craft or creating something bigger than himself — something that will, in all probability, earn him a place in the annals of history. What a pity!
Here’s hoping Das finds an actor whose love of the craft outshines his ego. Here’s wishing Nandita Das, and ‘Manto’, good luck!