Saadat Hasan Manto and Bollywood: From Writing an Award-Winning Film to Directing an Appearance in an Ashok Kumar Film

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Much has been written and said about Saadat Hassan Manto, the popular and controversial Urdu writer from the subcontinent. Born in Ludhiana in British India on this date in 1912, Manto later emigrated to Lahore, Pakistan, despite his intention to stay in Bombay. Opposed to the Partition, he is deeply marked by what is happening around him at the time, like any sensitive and credible author who respects himself. These outpourings resulted in some of his best work to date, such as Toba Tek Singh.

Manto is celebrated as a prolific novelist and playwright. And there are many films, feature films as well as short films, based on his work or inspired by his own interesting life. But did you know that Saadat Hasan Manto also contributed directly to movies, as we know them? He was a competent screenwriter and one of his seminal works was the 1954 film Mirza Ghalib. Here is a brief overview of some of the films written by the masterful hand of Saadat Hasan Manto.

Naukar (1943)

This 1943 release, directed by Shaukat Hussain Rizvi and written by Saadat Hasan Manto, focused on the life of Fazlu (portrayed by Chandra Mohan), who served as Khwaja Islamuddin’s lifelong aide. It is his story, his trials and his obstacles that the public could see on the celluloid. A cinematic look that is certainly lacking in Indian cinema at the moment.

Naukar played Chandra Mohan, Noor Jehan, Yakub and Shobhna Samarth among others.

Chal Chal Re Navjavan (1944)

Plot details are sparse in this Gyan Mukherjee film, but the film was reportedly a big hit at the box office. Chal Chal Re Navjavan, written by Mantostarred Ashok Kumar and Naseem Banu.

Shikari (1946)

Released in the mid-1940s, Saadat Hasan Manto had written the story of this director Savak B Vacha. Although not much is known about the plot of the film, the film featured Ashok Kumar, Kishore Kumar, Paro Devi and Veera in pivotal roles. His music was provided by Anil Chandra Sengupta and SD Burman.

Mirza Ghalib (1954)

In the early 1940s and 1950s, Manto frequently dabbled in story and dialogue writing, and befriended film star Ashok Kumar, who also persuaded him to do a appearance in one of his films called Aath Din, or Eight Days, for which Manto was also credited as a writer. But perhaps the most important film of his relatively short film career has to be the 1954 biopic titled Mirza Ghalib.

As its title suggests, the film was based on the life and times of the timeless Urdu and Persian poet Mirza Ghalib. The feature film was directed by Sohrab Modi and had Bharat Bhushan, Suraiya and Nigar Sultana playing prominent roles. Apart from Saadat Hasan Manto, Rajinder Singh Bedi and JK Nanda were also credited as the writers of this National Award winning film. Mirza Ghalib also won the President’s Gold Medal for being the best feature film in all India. The film’s ghazals were sung by Suraiya and Mohammed Rafi, as well as Talat Mahmood. Interestingly, Mirza Ghalib was not only a critically acclaimed film but also managed to make its presence felt at the box office.

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