Nawazuddin Siddiqui, the lead actor in the film Manto, offered to do the role of the Urdu writer for a nominal fee of Re 1. Other actors like Rishi Kapoor, Ranvir Shorey and Javed Akhtar also wanted to come onboard pro bono.
ThePrint asks: Nawazuddin wanted ₹1 for Manto— Promotional gimmick or Bollywood upholding artistic cause?
Nawazuddin’s decision was not influenced by a shoestring budget, Manto is being produced by Viacom 18
Bollywood has mastered the art of publicity gimmicks. Be it relationship rumours of its movie leads or claims of stunts without body doubles, they have done it all and with perfection. However, over the years, the gimmicks have only gotten subtler and indirect, but still revolving around the idea of making any film a box office success.
Naturally, Nawazuddin Siddiqui offering to accept Re 1 as the fee for acting in Manto, predicted to be a path-breaking project, is a shielded effort to push the film into social media feeds of the common person who otherwise has no clue about Manto.
The world loves a generous, humble person. The adjectives fit even more when this person lived through Bollywood’s ruthlessness to tell the rags-to-riches story and still remains grounded. When a gifted actor like Siddiqui refuses payment, it only makes his halo shine brighter.
Let’s be honest, Nawazuddin’s decision was not influenced by a shoestring budget. The Nandita Das directed biopic is being backed by one of the biggest production houses in Bollywood, Viacom 18. The underlying idea behind this move was to be the bigger human, the bigger actor who would give anything for a role and not let his cheque reflect on his efforts. Like Nandita Das said, “This is the character that an actor would give an arm and leg for.”
Nawazuddin’s offer is a genuine gesture and a tribute to the rich legacy of Manto
Nawazuddin offering to accept Re 1 for Manto is a genuine gesture as a part of the tribute to a prolific writer.
Saadat Hasan Manto was a playwright and author way ahead of his times. He helped shape the South Asian narrative in literature and cinema that these industries still capitalise on. Manto has given way more to the creative arts industry than can be quantified in monetary terms.
As an actor, Nawazuddin has carved a place for himself as an indie actor who stays true to acting rather than the commercial elements of a Bollywood production. Today Nawazuddin occupies the same niche as Manto did then when commercial and the esoteric tastes collided for once. That may have been a reason why Nawazuddin was chosen to portray Manto.
Besides, the indie arts and entertainment community in India — or alternate cinema as it is called— is realising that good art can be produced and distributed wider with increasing market opportunities. With the advent of the Netflix culture, indie cinema has finally found a platform that connects the art to the target audience with lesser risks and production costs. However, there is much more that needs to be done to push this genre onto the big screen. Offering to charge a nominal fee of Re 1 cuts the production costs and is, in turn, a way of encouraging more such projects. Nawazuddin offering to do Manto pro bono is a smart investment in the industry.
Characters alone can be compelling enough for an actor to come onboard
It would be unfair to reduce Nawazuddin’s offer to a promotional gimmick, although it might supplement the narrative the makers are trying to build around the movie.
People simply are motivated by more than just money or success when it comes to their work. This is especially true for the creative profession where actors and filmmakers may believe that some stories must be told. Characters alone can be compelling enough to be the sole source of motivation for actors. Playing the role of Manto carries enough weight, prestige, opportunity for an actor and adds significantly to their career graph. Actors have been known to forgo fees in the past as well—Sonam Kapoor reportedly charged only Rs 11 for Bhaag Milkha Bhaag citing her love for the character and her wish to work with the director as the reason. The rights to the movie were also sold by Milkha Singh for Re 1.
At the same time, interviews of director Nandita Das and Nawazuddin emphasise the honesty and natural ease with which Nawazuddin managed to play this role. In this case, publicising how much money he asked for helps build the narrative. More importantly, both Das and Nawazuddin have also stressed on Manto’s honesty and earnestness towards his work. Nawazuddin’s willingness to charge nothing, therefore, might be an interesting parallel and may help convince the audience about his earnestness towards the role.
Saying that actors worked for nominal fee in Manto adds to the hype around it
This is not the first time National School of Drama alumni, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, has pulled something like this. Last year, the actor reportedly charged Re 1 for the Shlok Sharma-directed movie Haraamkhor.
Nandita Das’ film Manto has already caught the attention of many viewers. The trailer has been well received. The film received critical acclaim at Cannes and is scheduled for a mid-September release in India.
In the midst of this, if you say that most of the actors chose to work pro bono or with a nominal fee in Manto, then it just adds to the marketing of the film. The viewers will be even more curious to see the film and whether it lives up to this hype. You will feel like you are missing some path-breaking film if you don’t watch it.
Anup Pandey, celebrity manager for Nawazuddin, has just done the job right. Every actor has a brand perception for the public to connect with. For Nawazuddin, his value comes from his acting and he is using it to build his social image. Actors earn not just from films but also through endorsements, appearances and other engagements.
The talk of pay over Manto is a sheer promotional gimmick. Calling it an artistic cause sounds like another advertising strategy for the film.
Compiled by Neera Majumdar, journalist at ThePrint.
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