It turns out Manto is still exposing hypocrites, long after his death.
Manto exposed hypocrites when he was alive. It turns out that he is still exposing hypocrites, long after his death. Now, Pakistan has banned the Nawazuddin Siddiqui-starrer Manto.
Saadat Hassan Manto, the renowned Urdu short story writer, was born in Ludhiana (India) and died in Lahore (Pakistan) at the age of 43 in 1954. His descendants still live in Pakistan. It was here that Manto was tried for obscenity six times – three times before 1947 by the British government and three times after 1947, by the slaves of the British government in Pakistan. He was at the centre of many controversies then and now.
In 2015, a Pakistani film director Sarmad Khoosat produced a film on Manto. He himself acted as Manto in it. It was actually produced in 2012 as a TV series. It had 20 episodes, but was put on hold for film production. Those 20 episodes were edited and the 127-minute film was produced. When I compare this film with Indian version, I think Nandita Das did far better than Sarmad Khoosat.
BJP, Kartarpur and Manto
Then came the second Manto film directed by Nandita Das. I watched this highly impressive film on my computer in Pakistan. I was so excited that I started requesting many people in the country’s ruling elite to lift the ban on ‘Manto’.
One very important person in the corridors of power immediately said, “Wait for the Indian elections, once Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) comes back into power, then things will start improving.” I asked him a simple question: “What is the connection between lifting the ban on a film in Pakistan and the election in India?”
He said that Pakistan recently made serious efforts to open a key corridor for Indian Sikhs to pay their respects at Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib in Narowal. It even shared a draft of the agreement on Kartarpur with the Indian side but the message is to wait till the coming elections.
I was disappointed. Then I spoke to another person who is closely involved in the making and breaking of India-Pakistan relations. This time, I got a bigger shock.
He said: “We want Modi to become Prime Minister of India again because only he can deal with anti-Pakistan elements in India better than Rahul Gandhi.”
These words were like an explosion for me. I realised that Islamabad and New Delhi are engaging in some backdoor diplomacy. BJP leaders slam Pakistan in their election rallies. Pakistan’s Foreign Office is also criticising India on the use of force and pellet guns in Kashmir every other day, but their public position is different from the position they take in backdoor talks.
Now I understand why many people in India say that if Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan is close to the Army, it’s a good thing for India. On the one hand, the ruling BJP in India is reluctant to sign an agreement with Pakistan on the Kartarpur corridor, but on the other, Pakistani power players don’t mind Pakistan bashing coming from BJP leaders because they think that it’s only the BJP that can sign a peace deal with them.
If Indian politician Navjot Singh Sidhu can attend the oath taking ceremony of Prime Minister Imran Khan in Islamabad’s President House, if India’s Union ministers Harsimrat Kaur Badal and Hardeep Singh Puri can participate in the groundbreaking ceremony of Kartarpur corridor along with dozens of Indian journalists, if a former judge of India’s Supreme Court, Justice Madan Lokur can attend the oath taking ceremony of Pakistan’s new Chief Justice, Asif Saeed Khosa, then why ban Manto in Pakistan? Just because the film was produced in India?
What is curious is that Pakistan has banned Manto, but there is no ban on Indian actor Shah Rukh Khan’s films.
I spoke to the Federal Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry, who said that the Pakistani Censor Board made some objections on some dialogues that raised questions about Partition. “I told them that the views of Manto about Partition are very well-known. His books are available everywhere in Pakistan, so there is no need to ban this film, but the majority opinion prevailed.”
I spoke to the members of the Pakistan Censor Board. They had no arguments. They said the Pakistani film Manto is better than its Indian counterpart. I told them that Nandita Das never added anything new in the dialogues of this film that deviated from what Manto actually wrote. They disagreed. One of them was an old friend. His negative remarks about Manto broke my heart.
Maybe I am overreacting about the ban on Manto. But it was his writings that gave me an understanding of the double games that the ruling classes of India and Pakistan play.
Only now, they are playing it with a film about him.
The government of Pakistan, which banned Manto had actually awarded him Nishan-e-Imtiaz (Award of Excellence) in 2012. The same government of Pakistan organised “Manto Festival” in Lahore on 29 and 30 January 2019, and asked Ajoka Theatre to play “Toba Tek Singh”, a Partition short story written by Manto.
Manto’s “Teethwal ka Kutta” makes a mockery of the futility of war and how it turns ordinary humans into suspicious beasts. He wrote this story after the war between India and Pakistan in 1948. Probably why he faced baseless allegations from religious fanatics and so-called patriots.
Talking peace with India invites trouble in Pakistan. Now, many fanatics and so-called patriots are powerful in both India and Pakistan. They abuse each other publicly but they are in contact with each other through the back channels. They are not interested in peace, they prefer their double games instead.
The author is an award-winning Pakistani journalist. He tweets at @HamdMirPAK