Manto’s stories that came alive on the big and small screen to remind us of his brilliance

Author and playwright Saadat Hasan Manto passed away in 1955 at the age of 42 and yet the subcontinent continues to draw from the riches of his writing to make films and teleplays based on his stories. In his tragically short life, Manto gave us 22 collections of short stories, a novel, radio plays, essays and much more.

Here are some of the finest examples of cinematic and theatrical interpretations of his life and work:

In 2015, 60 years after Manto’s death, Pakistani director, theatre exponent, actor and television veteran  Sarmad Khoosat directed and starred in a biopic inspired by the writer. Titled ‘Manto’,  the film also showcased Manto’s short stories, like ‘Thanda Gosht’,  ‘Madari’, ‘License’, ‘Hatak’ and ‘Peshawar Se Lahore.’  

In 2018, actor and director  Nandita Das made another biopic starring Nawazuddin Siddiqui in the titular role with Rasika Dugal playing the role of Manto’s wife, Safia. The film sensitively portrayed many aspects of Manto’s complicated life, his friendship with feminist writer, Ismat Chughtai, his bond with film star Shyam Chadda and his relationship with his wife, Safia.  


Toba Tek Singh:

Arguably, one of the most powerful stories written about Partition, Toba Tek Singh was published in 1955 and since then, has been filmed and staged multiple times. The story of Bishan Singh, an inmate of a Lahore asylum, longing for his home is both poignant and pungently satirical. Most importantly, it embodies Manto’s deep empathy for all the victims of the Indo-Pak Partition.

In 2018, the story was filmed by director Ketan Mehta with Pankaj Kapoor as Bishan Singh and released digitally on ZEE5.

Now Zee Theatre is retelling this enduring tale about loss and displacement in its new offering, ‘Koi Baat Chale’. The series will feature dramatic readings of literary classics and ‘Toba Tok Singh’ will be read by veteran actor Manoj Pahwa. The series is directed by Seema Pahwa and you can watch it on Airtel Theatre, Dish TV and D2H Rangmanch.

This 2002 Fareeda Mehta directorial starred Sadiya Siddiqui, Irrfan Khan, Kay Kay Menon and Vrajesh Hirjee in key roles and also incorporated Manto’s stories like ‘Hatak’, ‘Mohammad Bhai’, and ‘Babu Gopinath.’ The stories with evocative art by renowned painter Bhupen Khakhar reveal the lesser explored aspects of human psyche and Mumbai. The film was shot in the actual red-light and underworld dominated areas to give the actors an experience of realism they otherwise would have missed out on.  


Hatak: On television

‘Hatak’ has inspired many cinematic and theatrical interpretations but perhaps for the first time, it has been presented at its purest in a dramatic reading. The story is part of Zee Theatre’s ‘Koi Baat Chale.’ Directed by Seema Pahwa, ‘Hatak’ is narrated by Sadiya Siddiqui and is based on the life of a golden-hearted sex worker Sugandhi whose generosity of spirit and kindness are unsullied by her environment. She tireless searches for true love and unquestioningly tolerates the selfishness of her lover. One day, however her equanimity is shaken when a client cruelly rejects her. How she finally learns to value herself and to stand in her power makes up the rest of the story. 


Mantostaan: The film

This 2017 film directed by Rahat Kazmi was based on four Manto short stories ‘Thanda Gosht’, ‘Khol Do’, ‘Assignment’, and ‘Akhiri Salute.’  With accomplished actors like Raghubir Yadav, Virendra Saxena, Sonal Sehgal, Shoib Nikash Shah and Rahat Kazmi himself, the anthology brought into focus how hate and violence during the Indo-Pak Partition disfigured humanity and took a massive toll on human values of compassion and empathy.

‘Khol Do’ is the tale of a missing young woman who is finally found by her father but in a state that speaks of the inhumanity that was unleashed during the riots.

‘Thanda Ghosht’ raked up a huge controversy when it was first written and it is easy to see why.

‘Assignment’ depicts the relationship between a Muslim judge and a Sikh man and ‘Aakhri Salute’ is about how Partition also divided friendships.