May 11 was Urdu litterateur Sadat Haasan Manto and his wife Safia’s birthday. Nandita Das who’s shooting Manto’s bio-pic woke up and felt like writing a letter to Manto! She read it out to the team and they celebrated his birthday with some goodies, including pedas and bhakarwadi as they are shooting in Pune! Here is Nandita’s letter to Manto:
Dear Manto Sahab,
In the midst of shooting madness, challenges galore, you give me the strength to stay calm, to have the unflinching conviction to tell things as they were and to respond to things as they are. You give me the moral courage to tell the truth, to not fear even failure.
You once said, I don’t write stories, they write me. When I am filming your story, I feel the same. I feel you are smiling, when I do well and are encouraging me, when I falter. When I think of all the challenges you faced, mine seem too small. You taught me that doing what we do is not an option, it is what we must. It is like when you said, “If you are a human being, you have to be progressive”. It is just not an option.
Those who know my engagement with women’s issues often ask me why am I making a film on a man, and not a woman. Simple – because I want to celebrate those men, the few and far between, who have championed the cause of women, looked at us not with contempt, pity or judgement, but as an equal. I know you hate labels, just as I do, but you are a true humanist, and therefore a feminist. Your being a man is one of the many identities you have. Just as my being a woman is.
In all your praise, I mustn’t forget your pillar of strength – Safia. A wife, a friend, a supporter who had to bear your ups and downs and the downs were many. She too was born on this day. Uncanny that you both shared your birthdays, both wore glasses and both your names started with the letter S.
They say nothing is random in life. By that logic, I am your fourth daughter…in spirit, in your mission. No surprise you named your three daughters with the letter N! In some mystical way I feel like I am part of your legacy, believing in the redemptive power of storytelling. While no one person can change the world but you remind me every day that one story, one poem, one film, can be that one drop that slowly fills the pot.
I am fortunate that the three sisters I now have, thanks to you, have given me all the support to tell your story. I hope I tell it the way you would have wished it to be told. Knowing you, you would also want your warts to be seen, your failings to be known. I am trying to bring out the beauty of an honest sensitive man with all his blemishes. All that makes you human and attainable.
And now I must run to the shoot. Today we are filming Shyam singing “Tu mera chand, main teri chandni”! You would like it!
With love, admiration and respect. And again, happy birthday!