Manto – A biopic on world’s most unsung writer

Author Manto belongs to the league of genius writers like Vladmir Nabokov, Gustave Flaubert and D.H.Lawrence. Manto is hailed as the most acclaimed writer in Urdu language. I became familiar with author Manto after seeing the short film – ‘In Defence of Freedom’ based on his ideals and thoughts. In the short film he justifies his stand on freedom of expression in world of writing. The role of Manto was portrayed by actor Nawazzudin Siddiqui.

After watching the short film on Manto, I was curious to know about his works and his contribution in literature. His works were realistic reflection of society which highlighted the atrocities happening around. The short film as well as the biopic is been directed by Nandita Das who has extensively researched on Manto by reading his works and personally meeting the writer’s family. Along with Nawazuddin Siddiqui, actress Rasika Duggal will be seen playing the role of Manto’s wife. Manto’s wife was a pillar of strength who stood by him in his best and worst times.

Poster of Manto’s biopic movie

Though I have yet to read about his works to know about his personality and his thoughts, I am already captivated by the genius behind the writer. The upcoming biopic – Manto based on last four years in life of the celebrated writer Saadat Hassan Manto gives a glimpse at his rebellious nature and how it affected his life both personally and professionally. The plight of writers was miserable compared to today’s marketing trends. Nowadays young writers have social networks, blogs to promote their writing works. In pre-independence days, writers had only imagination and a typewriter. Saadat Hassan Manto made his work recognized in the struggling industry of publication. Getting royalties from publishers was herculean task in pre-independence time. The lack of monetary prosperity and constant accusations of obscene writings took a toll on Manto’s career. Though he succumbed to alcohol, financial insecurities, he emerged as a celebrated author of his own generation. The biopic – Manto is all about what the legend Saadat Hassan Manto as a person was. Manto is an ambitious movie for Nandita Das in terms of direction and storytelling.

A rare photo of Saadat Hassan Manto

Mainstream cinema directors make movies on gangsters, match-fixing cricketers, Bollywood sirens but there are hardly any biopics on writers. With Manto making its presence felt in Cannes Film Festival, I have a faint hope that there will be biopics on Premchand, Sarat Chandra, Tagore and Amrita Pritam in coming times. I hope that movie Manto will connect the audience to the meaningful cinema which is rare nowadays.

The biopic – Manto is currently screened at Cannes Film Festival and is scheduled to release in October 2018.

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Bioscopewala – A new adaptation of Tagore’s classic

Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore’s short stories are always a subject of movie adaptations. Whether it is Chokher Bali or Kabuliwala, the stories of Tagore are inspiration for aspiring filmmakers. The upcoming 2018 Bollywood motion picture – Bioscopewala is a new adaptation of Tagore’s short story – Kabuliwala. The story is set in present times and here the Afghani’s profession is shown as a Bioscopewala.

The Pashtun Bioscopewala strikes a bond with kids by showing captivating visuals from his projector. Among the several kids, Mini is one child who reminds the Bioscopewala of his own daughter far away in his hometown. The lonesome girl and Bioscopewala share a bond of compassion. The Bioscopewala inspires her to see stories through the medium of bioscope. Unfortunately this bond of compassion is short-lived. A set of unfortunate events in city separate the Bioscopewala from his little friend Mini. Several years later, Mini sets in search of her guardian friend Bioscopewala who is now absconding from the public eye. Will Mini succeed in finding her guardian friend Bioscopewala? Rest of the movie is all about Mini’s quest to find the reasons behind the mysterious disappearance of the kind-hearted Bioscopewala who is now a convict. The story of Bioscopewala continues where the story of Kabuliwala ended. In the original story, the Kabuliwala returns home after releasing from jail. The climax is sad because Mini is unable to recognize her Kabuliwala. The new movie adaptation will see Mini’s attempt to bond back with her estranged guardian friend Rahmat Khan who she fondly called ‘Bioscopewala’. The role of Kabuliwala was portrayed by legendary actor Balraj Sahni in the 1960 movie based on Tagore’s classic. After 58 years, Tagore’s story of Kabuliwala is set in present times and will feature actor Danny Dengzopa as the Bioscopewala.

Bioscopewala is based on Tagore’s classic short story kabuliwala

What separates Kabuliwala story from other novels is its simplicity that makes it a favorite read among the readers. Tagore’s stories still weave a magic and inspire a new generation of readers every time. The trailer of Bioscopewala was so connecting in terms of nostalgia that I couldn’t resist penning my thoughts on Tagore’s upcoming movie adaptation.

Bioscopes are treasured souvenirs of childhood. They were picture palaces for kids. I cherish memories of buying small bioscope and seeing pictures by placing the reels in the device. I wouldn’t be a writer if I hadn’t enjoyed motion pictures on bioscope. If you love Tagore’s stories then you shouldn’t miss Bioscopewala.

Bioscopewala is scheduled to release this summer on 25th May 2018.

Tagore’s Kabuliwala

‘Kabuliwala, O Kabuliwala’ calls the little girl Mini to a Pashtun Merchant named Rehmat who sells dry fruits in Calcutta (Now Kolkata). They strike a bond, a bond untouched by expectations. Rabindranath Tagore’s timeless story – Kabuliwala is a testament of kindness, compassion and unspoken affection. Adapted for motion pictures several times, Kabuliwala’s story is relevant even in current times.

Recently a new Bollywood motion picture – Bioscopewala teaser was released on Youtube. It is based on Tagore’s Kabuliwala and will see the Afghani resident in a new profession as Bioscopewala. As 2018 marks the 137th birth anniversary of Tagore, penning my thoughts on Kabuliwala will be a compliment to legacy of Tagore’s writings. Bengali literature has its own sweetness. Soaked in nostalgia, the short stories give a glimpse of Bengali culture, customs and traditions. Whether it is Saratchandra’s Parineeta or Bankim Chandra’s Anand Math, the literature of old times were a medium of social awakening. Kabuliwala’s story too belongs to that age where society was changing after independence.

Kabuliwala is regarded as a milestone in career of Rabindranath Tagore

Rahmat Khan, an Afghani resident makes his living in Calcutta, selling dry fruits. While roaming the streets of Calcutta, he passes by house of little Mini. By a strange curiosity, little Mini calls the Kabuliwala and hides away in her room. Initially Mini is scared of Rahmat Khan but in the second meeting she breaks the ice and starts chattering with the Kabuliwala Rahmat Khan. Mini’s father is the narrator of the story and it is he who allows the bond to grow stronger. An innocent bond forms between little Mini and Kabuliwala. Since Rahmat Khan is far away from his little daughter, he pampers Mini like his own child by offering her dry fruits. Unlike Mini’s father, her mother disapproves of Kabuliwala’s presence in Mini’s life. She is scared that the Afghani may kidnap her daughter and sell her off. Fate takes a cruel twist and Rahmat Khan is arrested for killing a man in a heated rage. Several years’ later Rahmat Khan is released after completing his jail sentence. Before returning to his home, Rahmat Khan longs to meet his little Mini. To his surprise, Mini now a grown up young woman doesn’t recognizes her guardian friend ‘Kabuliwala’. Mini’s father offers Rahmat Khan some money so that he can return back to his motherland. He longs to return back to see his daughter who must have grown up.

Tagore’s Kabuliwala captures the emotions of the immigrants who go far away to other cities to earn money for their families. Despite being homesick, they try to find happiness in small moments around them. What connects readers to Kabuliwala is the innocent bonding of little Mini and her guardian friend Kabuliwala. She finds a confidante companion in Rahmat Khan in whom she can share her childish emotions. Even Rahmat Khan finds a company in Mini who reminds him of his own daughter. Nowadays readers don’t get to read such stories rich with such emotional content as Kabuliwala. Things have changed a lot in recent times. To earn money and name in an alien city, an immigrant needs identification proof, income details, residential proof to prove his existence. Tagore wrote the character of Kabuliwala based on a real Afghani living in Calcutta. Even today Kabuliwalas reside in Kolkata earning a living for their family.

A scene from Stories by Tagore on epic channel which showed Kabuliwala on small screen

The role of Kabuliwala was immortalized by legendary actor Balraj Sahni in 1960 movie adaptation of Tagore’s classic story. Recently Epic Channel telecasted ‘Stories by Tagore’ which featured the story of Kabuliwala. The television show was directed by Anurag Basu. The upcoming movie – Bioscopewala will feature senior actor Danny Dengzopa as Afghani Bioscopewala based on the character created by Tagore.

The 2018 movie Bioscopewala is based on Tagore’s classic

This article was a small effort on my side to celebrate 125 years of Kabuliwala’s story penned by Tagore.

Notes from a small room – Delightful anecdotes on life by Ruskin Bond

‘I have made a small bench in the middle of this civilized wilderness…this is my favorite place. No one can find me here. Unless I call out and make my presence known’ – excerpt from the book.

The above lines reflect the emotions of person content in the secluded space he has made for himself. No matter how much crowded his social life may be, he craves for his personal space. In his latest compilations of essays – Notes from a small room, Ruskin Bond makes such observations on human nature and writes anecdotes on life, philosophy, birds, monsoon showers, wild life, books, loneliness and contentment. Today where net-savvy people search for free Wi-Fi zones, Ruskin Bond emphasizes on the importance of a window in a room. A window is a gateway to the outer world, a glimpse of the palpitating life full of energy. As a child, I used to peep out of my window to feel the rain droplets on my hands. The article on window refreshed my childhood fascination to glimpse at the outer sceneries. What would life be without a window?

Ruskin Bond recounts his childhood memories he spent with his father during his days in Delhi and Shimla boarding house. The article ‘Remember this day’ is a nostalgic glance at Ruskin Bond’s tragic moment when he lost his father at age of 10. In one of his articles, he recounts his struggling days as a writer and how he couldn’t afford to buy a typewriter. An office colleague’s monetary contribution helped Ruskin to buy a new typewriter. It was this typewriter that enabled him to write memorable books and several short stories. Though his typewriter has become too old to work, he still relishes the experience of working on his writing device. For a writer, a typewriter is really an inspiring writing device. In this book, he has emphasized on the difference between staying alone and remaining lonely. In real sense, we are all alone but the cold nature of people makes us lonely. Human being is a social animal and always craves for company of friends. He becomes aloof when he is not accepted by people in the group due to various factors – nature, religion, status etc. The article on loneliness by Ruskin Bond will change your conception towards life and enable you to accept solitude with a refreshing change.

What personally captivated me to read the book was getting familiar about the different types of birds in mountain side and city. The birds from the city are different from the birds staying in jungle.

‘It’s is the simple things that keeps us from going crazy’ – Ruskin Bond

Though we capture so many things on our smartphones, we fail to notice the beautiful things in the surroundings. The dew drops on the grass, the smell of earth after the first rain and the refreshing view of mountains from window are beautiful views of nature that we miss every day. Shut off your mobile for a while to discover the true beauty of Mother Nature that brings you closer to a life full of happiness. Travel, give a surprise visit to your friends, eat on the local food-stalls and watch a movie in a single screen cinema hall. These are things that keep you alive. We have become so much absorbed in our mobile and tablet screens that we have forgot to live our life to the fullest. ‘Notes from a small room’ is the book for those who want to embrace happiness with their open arms.

The legend of forgotten empress: Razia Sultan (1205-1240)

If any woman could equal Queen Elizabeth; it could be India’s young empress Razia Sultan who ruled Delhi for four years (10 November 1236 – 14 October 1240). Razia was the only woman in India’s history to rule Delhi. She broke the norms of stereotypical thinking of male dominated society by administering the Delhi Sultanate with leadership. It is very sad to know that today’s western thinking youngsters hardly know about Razia Sultana. The current teen generation is fascinated by Roman history, Greek warriors and fictional characters from fantasy TV series like Game of thrones.

The courageous feats of brave female monarchs like Rani Durgavati, Rani Abbakka and Razia Sultan are lost in pages of history. Should we blame it on history textbooks or the growing influence of American pop culture that we are forgetting our Indian heritage and backstories of forgotten bravehearts. The tomb of Razia Sultana lies neglected, abandoned and forgotten in old city of Delhi. No one knows about the exact landmark of Razia Sultana’s tomb. While researching on the topic of Razia on Google, I came across an article published in Tripoto website where a travel blogger had mentioned about the neglected state of Razia Sultana’s tomb where Razia lies buried beside her sister Shazia. After reading the article, I was deeply touched about the poor state of historical tombs. I am really keen to visit not only Razia Sultana’s tomb, but also pay respect to the forgotten queen who dared to change the society’s orthodox thinking with her forward minded approach.

Razia Sultan was the daughter of Shams-Ud-din Illtumish, a slave who rose to become the Sultan of Delhi after the death of Qutb-Ud-din-Aibak. This Sultan dynasty came to be known as slave dynasty. After the death of his son Nasir Ud Din Mahmud, there was no heir capable to rule Delhi except his daughter Razia. Razia had all the qualities required in a king to rule the kingdom bravely. Her only fault was that she was a female and this aroused a spark of jealousy, hatred among her half-brothers. In her four years rule, Razia took care of her subjects with efficiency. Despite being an able ruler, she was severely criticized by her opponents. In her short reign, Razia had become a favorite empress of her subjects. She not only conquered various territories with her dare-devilry, but also brought reformation by starting schools, academic centers and libraries.

‘She was a great monarch, wise, just, generous, benefactor to her realm, dispenser of justice, protector of her people and leader of her armies; and endowed with all the admirable attributes and qualifications necessary for a king’ – A praise written by Persian historian Miraj-I-Siraj

The legend says that Razia was a victim of conspiracy and betrayal. Razia and her husband Altunia were robbed and killed by Jats on October 14th 1240. It is been said that it was the mastermind of her half-brother Muizuddin Bahram Shah. Razia was been wrongly accused of being in a romantic relationship with one of her slaves – Yaqut.

Razia Sultan’s life was made into a Bollywood biopic in 80’s featuring actress Hema Malini in the titular role. Unfortunately the movie wasn’t up to the mark and couldn’t capture the history of Razia Sultan with epic scale. Recently a TV series was made on life of Razia Sultan and was telecasted on ‘&’ channel featuring actress Pankhury Awasthy in role of Razia. An epic biopic needs to be made in Bollywood soon with a powerful contemporary actress in role of Razia Sultan.

In a short life span, she left her mark on the pages of history. She was no less than Queen Elizabeth or Victoria. The sad irony is that we know about the history of foreign monarchs but are clueless about the legend of Razia Sultan.

Dara Shukoh – The ill-fated prince of Mughal Empire (20 March 1615-30 August 1659)

‘The fault, dear Brutus is not in our stars, but in ourselves’ – Shakespeare

The Shakespeare quote bears a coincidence with the ill-fated life span of the forgotten Mughal Prince Dara Shukoh who would have changed the course of Mughal empire had he been not killed by his own brother Aurangzeb. Despite born in a royal family, Dara Shukoh was too unlucky to rule the peacock throne. Unlike his ancestors, Dara was secular, highly learned and kind-hearted prince who lacked the tactical cunningness needed to rule the peacock throne. The death of his mother Mumtaz Mahal was a tragic setback in life of Dara. Emperor Shahjahan was so emotionally disturbed by his wife’s untimely demise that he devoted his attention to building a monument in memory of his beloved Mumtaz. Had Shahjahan focused his attention towards upbringing his children, his children wouldn’t have rebelled against him.

Dara Shukoh (20 March 1615 – 30 August 1659)

From the very beginning, Dara was hated by his brothers – Aurangzeb and Murad. An internal civil war was brewing within the family. Shahjahan’s affection towards Dara was the crucial factor that created a rift within the siblings. When Shahjahan became sick, Dara ruled the empire on his behalf, acting as a regent. Though Dara led many war campaigns, he lacked the leadership and ruthlessness of a soldier to drive away the invaders. Despite failing in war campaigns, Shahjahan still had hopes in Dara that he would take Mughal Empire to new heights. In this midst, Aurangzeb’s crafty mind was working to overthrow his father from the throne.

Dara’s lenient nature was one weaker factor that gave his opponents an upper hand over him. The internal moles of Aurangzeb were already keeping an eye on every movement of Dara’s actions. Had Dara been more aggressive and vigilante in his strategies, he would have definitely overthrew his crafty brothers.

Battle of Samugarh & Dara’s execution – The Battle of Samugarh in 1658 was a turning point in history of Mughal Empire, thus weakening the hold of Shahjahan towards his throne. Dara was severely defeated by the powerful army of Aurangzeb and Murad. Thus began the fall of Dara Shukoh who was the rightful heir to the throne. Aurangzeb not only defeated Dara, but also deposed his father Shahjahan from the throne. Apart from the defeat in Samugarh battle, Dara was losing everything on personal front too. The demise of his wife Nadira was one more tragedy that struck him on emotional front. Dara had plans to claim back his throne that was rightfully his. He marched to Sindh with hopes to seek the help of his friend Malik Jiwan whose life he had once saved. Little did Dara realize that Malik Jiwan was a betrayer in disguise. Malik Jiwan cunningly got Dara arrested and handed him over to Aurangzeb’s soldiers. Dara was paraded in chains on elephant by Aurangzeb’s soldiers, thus publicly humiliating him in eyes of the public. On advice of courtiers, Aurangzeb finally got Dara slain in the prison. His remains were buried in an unknown grave in Humayun’s tomb.

The slaying of Dara is darkest chapter in history of Mughal legacy and the beginning of decline of its supremacy. The fortune was not in the favor of the ill-fated prince Dara who was too good to be a Mughal emperor. The tragic story of Dara was featured in Amar Chitra Katha comics – Dara Shukoh & Aurangzeb. I had read about the story of Dara in my school days and somewhere in my mind I held great respect for this tragic Mughal prince. Sadly there is no biopic based on Dara Shukoh. This article is a small tribute to the forgotten Mughal prince Dara whose accomplishments are blurred in the pages of history.

Recommended literature – I highly recommend Alex Rutherford’s book – The Serpent’s tooth which is based on the tragic events in life of Shahjahan.

Jahanara: The tragic story of the forgotten Mughal princess

A lot is written in history on Mughal Princess Jahanara but very less is known about her. Call it a tragic irony that various foreign historians have researched on life of this princess, but her story is yet to come in full light to our Indian history readers. We know about Cleopatra, Helen of Troy, Mary Antoinette, Elizabeth, Victoria and Anne Boleyn (mother of Queen Elizabeth) but heard hardly about Jahanara, the eldest daughter of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal.

A picture of Jahanara

While I started reading Alex Rutherford’s book on Mughal Emperors, a six book series on rise and fall of Mughal Empire, it suddenly struck to me that there was a Mughal princess named Jahanara. The curiosity compelled me to research on the daughters of Shah Jahan and here I became familiar with Jahanara Begum (23 March 1614 – 16 September 1681).

What inspired and compelled me to write on Jahanara was that she sacrificed her personal love life to look after her devastated father Shah Jahan whose kingdom was on the verge of decline.

It is said that every royal family carries a curse with it. Be it Macedonian Emperor Alexander or the royal ministers of Maratha – the Peshwas, every heir has to pay a price for being in the royal lineage. The Mughals were not exception to it. The Mughal princess Jahanara was a victim of the royal curse.

The death of Mumtaz Mahal badly affected Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan to such an extent that he deviated away from his kingdom matters to build a love memorial in remembrance of his deceased wife. He was so engrossed behind the making of Taj Mahal that he neglected his children which later resulted in war between Dara Shukoh and Aurangzeb. After the death of Mumtaz Mahal, it was Jahanara who took the responsibility of taking care of her siblings.

Aurangzeb not only grabbed the Mughal throne, but also got his brother Dara slain to death. Even Shah Jahan and Jahanara were confined to imprisonment. The last days of Shah Jahan were spent in melancholy, suffering, tragedy and sickness. It was in these tough times that Jahanara looked after her ailing father till his last breath. Though Jahanara lived a royal life, she was deprived of the freedom to live an independent life as common girls live. Since she was a princess, she was not allowed to communicate with people outside the kingdom. Very less is known about her love life. Jahanara had been in love with a commoner named Mirza Najabat Khan and had confided her feelings towards her mother Mumtaz Mahal. Unfortunately Mumtaz Mahal died before she could plan for her daughter’s marriage. Her father’s melancholy and the internal sibling war within the family took a toll on Jahanara’s happiness. If Jahanara favored her brother Dara, the other sister Roshanara sided with Aurangzeb. Jahanara and Roshanara were rival sisters, diversified in their nature. If Jahanara was kind hearted, Roshanara was crafty. It was the internal feud among siblings that was the start of decline of Mughal Empire.

Though Jahanara’s life may be not as eventful as other royal princess and queens in history, one cannot deny that Jahanara sidelined her personal life to look after her family. Surrounded by controversy, conspiracies and tragic loneliness, Jahanara made her mark in Mughal history, remembered as the doomed princess.

This article is a secondary source and a rough sketch on events happened in life of Jahanara. To know more about her, I highly recommend Jahanara: Princess of Princess by Kathryn Lasky and Shadow Princess (Taj Mahal Trilogy) by Indu Sundarasen. I also suggest checking out Alex Rutherford’s book – Serpent’s tooth (Empire of the Mughal Part 5th in the series).