Saadat Hasan Manto was a brilliant Indo-Pakistani writer, author playwright who wrote about society, pre-independence and the partition of India. Toba Tek Singh, a short story by Manto, is said to be almost an autobiography of what the author felt about partition. His writings were often considered unorthodox and he was charged with obscenity six times in India and Pakistan for them. He said, ''If you cannot bear these stories then the society is unbearable.'' 

Another of his famous quotes reflects his times and can relate to our times too was, “Hindustan had become free. Pakistan had become independent soon after its inception but man was still a slave in both these countries - slave of prejudice - slave of religious fanaticism - slave of barbarity and inhumanity.” Manto’s works and what he said is relevant even today which is why Nandita Das has made a film on him today starring Nawazuddin Siddiqui in the title role. 

We chat with Nawazuddin about Manto, getting into the skin of a challenging yet brilliantly prolific writer like Manto and working with Nandita… 

How much can you relate to him?
I had read Manto's stories before and I was actually elated about getting offered Manto because this was the first role that fit my sensibility. I've never come across a man as pure and honest as Manto which is a major contradiction as to how we are in our lives. That journey from being a dishonest person to an honest person is a transformation. I am very grateful for seeing things for how they were from Manto's perspective. Only if you become that can you start thinking like that in real life. Why just me? Someone like Manto is as relevant today as he was in his time.

How did you get into the skin of the character of Manto? 
The process of getting into the skin began with the costumes, post which I immersed myself completely into studying the character; studying his body language (with a lot of help from his daughters), learning about how people spoke back in the day and basically just starting to think like Manto himself. At the end of it, I knew for a fact that the more I learnt about Manto and the person he was, the smaller I felt.

Have you read all his books?
I have read a couple of his short stories but I can never pick a favourite. Each story is so unapologetically raw and so beautifully written. It makes you want to be the fearless, courageous person he was. 

Is there anything of Manto that you could and could not identify with?
Before the movie happened, I didn't know much about Manto. I had heard of him and his writings but never had I known of his life story. What shocked me the most was the fact that he was such a family-oriented man in spite of being so involved with his work. Manto was extremely family-oriented - which may come as a shocker to most people. He was so fearless and honest and cared for his family to a great extent even at the peak of his creativity. How Manto managed to balance that is something I will never understand. It is very commendable to have such a balance in life and very few people would be able to maintain that balance. What I could identify with is his fearlessness and his ability to say things how he sees them. 

Which part of you of Manto has stayed with you and why?
I think just the fact that I could play the character of Manto and be that candid and express everything that's going on in my mind was so liberating. I would never be able to do that as Nawazuddin and that's the beauty of acting - you get to play these amazing and inspiring roles that change your life.  

Nandita feels you have similar traits with Manto like sensitive, vulnerable, dry humour, intense etc which helped you to transition effortlessly on screen. Do you agree?
I feel honoured if she really does see similar traits as me and Manto because he is the man everyone will aspire to be once they watch the film. 

Do you feel that Manto should have stayed back in India?
Manto was as much a part of India as he was of Pakistan. It didn't matter where he stayed. His writings have influenced both countries a big deal and he has received equal love from everywhere. 

Ismat Chughtai, Shyam Chadda, Ashok Kumar and Manto's wife, Safia - who do you feel was the strongest influence in Manto’s life?
I don't think I could choose a single one because what the audience has seen in the movie is a mere 4 years of his life. In actuality, everybody has had a great impact on his life, be it his work friends or his family. It would be unfair to pick one. 

How was it working with a woman director (Nandita Das)?
Nandita is an extremely creative individual and I feel lucky to have gotten the opportunity to work with her on one of my most special projects. It is interesting to see the different perspectives men and women have even when it comes to direction. Like the fact that there's no violence in this film; maybe a male director would have done it differently. But I am grateful to have seen this journey through Nandita's perspective. 

Manto was considered somewhat of a rebel in those times. According to you what are the makings of a good modern day rebel?
Manto was considered a rebel only because his school of thought was different from the thinking of the society. A good modern day rebel would be someone who doesn't just create a stir to make noise among the society but who actually believes in a particular cause enough to repeatedly voice their opinion for it. 

Do you regret turning down Dhaka with Chris Hemsworth because of your prior commitments?
I don't regret turning it down. It was unfortunate that I had already given out dates but I would never hold regrets because every film that I have chosen has been a learning experience in itself. 

How has been the experience of debuting in Tamil movie Petta and working with Rajinikanth?
Working with a stalwart like Rajnikanth is an experience in itself that I'm fortunate to have. It's been really great and I can't wait for the movie to hit the screens.