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Times of India
Four fiery short stories about riots, rapes and retribution, set around the Partition and amalgamated into a feature.
The conclusion of one of the short films in Mantostaan hits you like a ton of bricks. If you were actually reading Manto, this is the moment when you would look up from the book and take a deep breath to let it sink in. And it’s the wattage of that kind of writing that salvages this adaptation attempt.
The short with that most impact is Khol Do, the story of a father (Raghuvir Yadav) who accidentally leaves his daughter behind while making his way to Lahore after the Partition. In Assignment, another father-daughter duo (Veerender Saxena, Raina Bassnet) hold fort in Amritsar even as their muslim neighbours flee the country. In Aakhri Salute, a Pakistani soldier (Rahat Kazmi) engages in a friendly banter with his Indian counterpart stationed across the border. And in Thanda Ghosht, a Sikh man (Shoib Shah) with a broken moral compass tries to hide a secret from his girlfriend (Sonal Sehgal).
The stories run parallel to each other through the runtime of the movie, and while this might have been designed to enhance the effect, one cannot help but wonder whether the shorts would have been more powerful as separate entities, showcased one after the other. The switch from one story to the other is not always smooth and the attempt to connect them is at times too obvious.
Add to that a cast of mostly inexperienced actors, whose dialogue delivery and acting-school performances often take away from the subtlety of Manto’s work. The pain of the Partition, the urgency of the situation and the sheer fear are lost in translation.
But as the stories reach their climaxes, the power of the word takes over and every technical detail goes out of the window. These are stories of courage and resilience and heartbreak and the terrible things that terrible situations make people do. And in those final moments, you surrender to the plots.
Mantostaan seems like the first draft of a potentially unputdownable book. A slightly more experienced filmmaker would have done wonders with it. But in this state, it’s like a decent read with a great epilogue.