Recently months back, I watched a short film – In defence of freedom on Youtube. It was directed by acclaimed actress Nandita Das. The short film shows celebrated Urdu writer Saadat Hasan Manto addressing a class. The role of Manto is played by versatile actor Nawazzudin Siddiqui. While sharing his thoughts to a class of students, Manto justifies his stand on writing. He had been accused for writing provocative stories with substance of obscenity. All his stories have been criticized for being hard-hitting, vulgar, disturbing and brutally honest. He even had to face court trials for his short stories.
Be it Madame Bovary or Lady Chatterley’s lover, the writer of those books had to face criticisms for writing obscenity. In this short film, Manto addresses lots of issues on censorship in writing. When asked why his short stories are about prostitutes, Manto defends by saying that aren’t prostitutes a part of society. When people visit brothels, then it is no crime, then why shouldn’t a writer highlight the pathos of prostitutes through his stories? He even justifies his stand about writing abusive language in his stories. In day to day life, everyone mouths down filthy swearing words. Through his short stories, he only reflects the scenario of people and their lingo. In the short film, one of the students in the class points out that people get depressive and mentally drained by reading Manto’s stories. On hearing his question, Manto advises the student to speak only what he personally feels and not on basis of other people’s opinion.
The short film highlights the democratic rights and freedom of expression for writers in world of literature. Writers are criticized on every front – be it the writing style, story, grammar, structure or any technical aspect related to writing. Today there are several writing platforms and publishing houses that give writers’ opportunity the creative freedom to voice their ideas through their words. In times of Manto, opportunities were less and publishing houses paid very less. Despite the odds, Manto made his work stand out apart from the crowd.
If I recount my experiences, I had written an article on love affairs and justified my stand on that issue. Lots of people, especially my colleagues personally criticized the article giving it a thumb down. According to them, it was a trash write up that focused lot on infidelity, unfaithfulness, and steamy relationships. I was so morally down and discouraged by the bitter response that I decided to give up writing. Observe any segment of society, love affairs or extra-marital affairs happen. Be it a corporate office or a university campus, love blossoms among teens and adults coming from various walks of life. Many people advised me to give up writing, but the rebel writer in me couldn’t resist himself from putting his ideas, thoughts and emotions on his word document. Watch any movie like Bridges of Madison County or The English Patient, these movies narrated the stories of failed relationship of people and their quest to find true love in arms of other individual. They were hailed as masterpiece in world of movies. Even the 2005 movie – The Brokeback Mountain a tender love story between two cowboys was highly appreciated.
No story is good or bad. Story is a story. People make their opinions based on their thinking. Even a talented writer like Thomas Hardy was so heavily criticized for his novel that he gave up writing full length novel. Despite facing criticisms, writers like Thomas Hardy, Ernest Hemingway, and Stephen King continued to write.
Even after several years, Manto’s stories are relevant and been read worldwide. Had Manto survived, he would have definitely fetched a Pulitzer Prize for his contribution towards literature. Ironically, after the partition, he had to leave India and especially the city Bombay he loved the most. Lack of writing opportunities, poverty, court trials, and alcoholism took a toll on his life. There is Manto hidden in every creative person – writer, painter, sculptor or fashion designer. I personally recommend every creative person to watch this short film – In defence of freedom.
To know more about Manto, read his books – Radionaama, My name is Radha, Mottled dawn, Bombay Stories, Kingdom’s end: Selected stories, Why I write and Stars from another sky & his masterpiece story – Toba Tek Singh. Manto didn’t write stories to create sensation. His stories were dark and true reflection of society.
Saadat Hasan Manto’s life is ready as a Bollywood biopic – Manto and is scheduled to release in September 2018.