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Review Hindi

Lihaaf review: Ismat Chughtai gets the Manto treatment, weakly

Release Date: 26 Jan 2021

Cinestaan Rating

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Shriram Iyengar

Rahat Kazmi weaves in Chughtai's life during her infamous trial for obscenity with her story Lihaaf, but without the passion and humanity that drove both.

There are moments in Rahat Kazmi's Lihaaf when watching becomes difficult. Given that it is based on what is probably Ismat Chughtai's most famous short story, that is understandable. However, this attempt to weave the story of secretive relationships, the first experience of desperation and a fiery statement of feminism finds itself reduced to the bare minimal of physical intimacy and desperation. 

The film weaves together Chughtai's trial for obscenity in Lahore with the story at the centre of the storm, but roughly and inarticulately. The story begins with Ismat (Tannishtha Chatterjee) receiving a court summons from Lahore for the alleged obscenity in Lihaaf. Soon, we are drawn into the struggles of her family life and her literary ambitions. 

The film is rough and incapable of conveying the complex details of Lihaaf through its depiction. Begum Jaan (Sonal Sehgal) comes across as the desperate wife of a nawab filled with lust rather than a woman pining for a companion. 

It does not help that the film lacks the acting firepower that Nandita Das's Manto, which was built along similar premises, had. Tannishtha Chatterjee does her best to play the fiery Ismat. But the actress lacks the power and curiosity that Chughtai's personality conveyed. 

Worse, she is not supported well, or enough, by the rest of the cast. Manto (Shoib Nikash) tries to convey the idealism of Manto, but his dialogue delivery lacks the force of conviction that defined the writer. 

The film's dialogues are also an issue, with the swings between chaste Urdu and the simpler Hindi noticeably jarring. For a film about a writer, Lihaaf lacks the robust plotline or dramatic tension that would have highlighted the craft involved. 

Sadly, this is an attempt that neither enthuses nor drives one towards Ismat Chughtai's writing. That is a tragedy. 

Lihaaf was screened at the 10th Jagran Film Festival in Mumbai on 27 September 2019. 

Related topics

Jagran Film Festival

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