It’s very rare I pick up a pen to write a commentary on film or art or writing. Manto revolves around all three, and here I am. There are films that make you think, and films that make you feel, and films that that drag you out by the hair, kicking and screaming in front of a mirror. Like the writer himself, this film grabs you collectively, as a society. It grabs you by the hair and drags you out into the dust, and forces you to look into your own eyes. It forces you to look at blemishes and marks and scars, at the open wounds, and master the involuntary shudders. It forces you to NOT shrink back and NOT close your eyes and glance away. You face the furtive head on.
You face it, and you acknowledge it.
A tiny nod, but it’s a start. A mark of recognition, the starting of a new acquaintanceship. In that one tiny nod, you mark the landscape in the mirror as an equal. A landscape you will walk through and engage with. Your eyes are drawn to the darkness again and again- in shock and in fascination.
In the few hours this film makes you sit alongside this darkness, you find yourself growing accustomed to it. Is the face in the mirror such a stranger really? You gaze at each other. He moves, I move. He closes his eyes, I close mine. He sighs, I sigh. A tear escapes, and we both lift our hands to brush it aside.
We are complex creatures- layers and layers of emotion, thought, soul. The light and dark are so closely knitted together that we exist in ever deepening shades of grey. Unravelling those threads yields the black and the white in comparable measure. They are equally part of the whole, the mix behind the grey.
We ignore the grey. We ignore all that is for some stunted half-image we so desperately idolise. We paint it white and put it on a pedestal and bow down endlessly- the rest shoved hastily aside, doused in black, and doused in hate. The idol on the pedestal would never rise tall and pristine but for the broken pieces littered around it. The white rises only amidst the sea of black.
It is a lie.
It is a pitiful excuse for lopsided, conditional love, a lopsided, conditional self, a lopsided, conditional social mirror. I will see only that which is cast in stark light. The rest is beneath me. I will be the light. I will not be that which enriches it. That which IS in equal measure, a part of this fabric I am knitted from.
Manto is not so much a nod or acknowledgement, as a salute to the is-ness of the world around him. This film magnifies the white and magnifies the black, so lovingly and so powerfully; so unequivocally, that the illusion of both is shattered. There is only grey.