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This short film proves why Nawazuddin Siddiqui is the perfect Manto


In a short film titled 'In Defence of Freedom', Siddiqui gives a glimpse of the fiery oratory he might bring to Nandita Das's Manto. 

Shriram Iyengar

The news of Nandita Das embarking on a biopic on Saadat Hassan Manto was a joy to the writers' fans. Nawazuddin Siddiqui has already caught the pulse of his character, pulling off the perfect look in recent pictures from the film's sets. For any more questions raised on whether Siddiqui is the right actor for the role, this short film is the best answer. 

The film begins with Manto describing his ideology and literature to a gathering of students and litterateurs. The dialogues for the film are taken from Manto's essays, and the writer is also credited in the film. He begins his defence of being called 'obscene' by saying, "I believe in writing about everything that exists in front of you. My stories do not make normal people lech and leer. You can decide whether you like or do not like my story, whether my stories are worthy of their period can be decided by literary critics, but literature cannot be obscene." 

Manto was, and remains, one of India and Pakistan's most celebrated short story writers. Known for his incisive eye, sharp rhetoric and unadulterated satire, Manto suffered through several litigations for obscenity. He was tried four times in pre-partition India for obscenity, and three more times in Pakistan after 1947.

The film sees Manto arguing for his stories. He says, "Why should I not write about prostitutes? Are they not part of our society? Men do not visit them to pray. Men are clearly allowed to visit brothels, but I am not to write about it. Why?" 

In an age of growing intolerance, there have been several instances of people struggling to have their voice heard. Das's Manto echoes the sentiment saying: "My stories are a mirror that reflect the face of society. If an ugly person does not like his reflection, how can I be blamed?" 

"If you cannot tolerate my stories, then it means that the age itself is intolerant," utters Manto to a bewildered audience. 

The trailer is also littered with instances of the kind of opposition faced by the writer. Siddiqui's Manto handles them in a style typical of the famed writer, with acerbic wit, and dry satire. The actor's energy and conviction while delivering these lines are unlike the decadent, carefree Faizal of Gangs of Wasseypur. The actor has undergone a complete transformation, and if this short film is any indication, Das' Manto will see him deliver another powerful performance. 

Whether it is his conviction in Manto's words, or the dialogue delivery, Siddiqui has captured far more than simply his look for Das's film.