The times that we are living in, can our filmmakers really embrace Mantoiyat?

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It’s 72 years since we have become an Independent nation and we are still fighting for a fundamental right as basic as ‘Freedom of Expression’. The ones who are always caught in this never-ending fight are obviously the artists, filmmakers and the journalists. Every day, they have to face several obstacles in order to be heard or make their works see the light of the day.

In recent times, we have seen how difficult it is for filmmakers to make a film criticising the government or commenting on religion or for that matter any specific section of our society. Sometimes, it’s the Censor board that interferes with their creativity and sometimes, we have the so-called custodians of the society trying to forcefully impose their rules and regulations on artists and filmmakers. The controversy surrounding the title of the film ‘Loveratri’  or deletion of a few scenes from ‘Manmarziyaan’ are some of the recent examples of this forceful censorship. Ultimately, the makers of the film bowed down and made the necessary changes in their films. After all, who wants their film to be taken down from the theatres?

I am so glad that the noted actress and filmmaker Nandita Das‘ latest film ‘Manto’ starring Nawazuddin Siddiqui has released in a time when dissent is looked upon as a heinous crime. The film is based on the life of the celebrated, yet controversial, Urdu author Saadat Hasan Manto.

I won’t say that I have read all of his works but I consider myself fortunate that I could read his book ‘Mottled Dawn: Fifty Sketches and Stories of Partition’. It’s a collection of his most powerful stories and every single of those fifty stories will literally give you goosebumps. After reading his stories, I came to understand the legend that Manto is. And at the same time, I wonder how he would be treated if he would have been alive today?

For the uninitiated, Manto was a writer popular for his short stories. His writings are so raw and unfiltered that if you read any of his stories based on the tragic event of India-Pakistan partition, you will be shocked to know about the extent of cruelty we human beings are capable of. Manto was charged several times just for calling a spade a spade. He even criticised the society by saying, “If you cannot bear my stories, it is because we live in unbearable times.” And he was so right then, in fact, his words still hold true.

Manto always fought for the truth, he argued that if incidents like rape and molestation are happening in the real world then why can’t a writer, write about them? His stories were charged with obscenity but he fought against the charges saying that whatever he has written reflects the things that are present in the society. He said that his stories are a mirror to the society, then how can anyone charge him for saying the truth? Manto wrote about the things they way they are and refused to look at it with rose-tinted glasses. He never gave up and always fought for what he believed in.

Filmmakers and films have become a soft target as every second day, we come across stories of a certain section of the society being offended by some or the other film. And the filmmakers are literally forced to make changes in their work. In such scenarios what example are we setting for the coming generation to follow?

Mantoiyat is all about saying the things the way they are. But the times we are living in, is it really possible to embrace Mantoiyat? More than the audience, I guess our filmmakers should take a leaf or two out of Manto’s life and stand on their ground no matter what. Bogging down to the pressures of the so-called guardians of the society is not going to serve any purpose. Filmmakers are artists and if they don’t fight for the freedom of expression then the whole purpose of their existence is defeated.

Merely entertaining the audience is not what films are meant for. Films should also start a debate, talk about things that are being brushed under the carpet, it should raise questions, bring into focus things that otherwise would have never caught our attention. The day our artists are free to write and show whatever they want to, only then we will be able to call ourselves a progressive nation.

Manto’s ideologies are as relevant today as they were in his times and so is Faiz Ahmad Faiz’s nazm -‘Bol, ke lab azaad hai tere…Bol, zabaan ab tak teri hai, Bol, ke jaan ab tak teri hai….’

Also Read: Instead of remaking films, why can’t Bollywood filmmakers adapt more novels?