Nandita Das’s Manto released in India on 21 September. Even though it didn’t do very well at the box office, the film was critical appreciated. Starring Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Manto is based on the life of noted Urdu writer Saadat Hasan Manto, who migrated to Pakistan from India during Partition.
Das and her team were hoping for the film to be released in Pakistan, but the filmmaker was left disappointed after the Central Board of Film Censors, Pakistan’s film certification body, banned it instead.
While Das is not surprised by the ban, the filmmaker is aghast by the reasons provided for it.
Manto review: This portrait of Manto is charming, engrossing, but not as provocative as his pen
“I just got the news that Manto was not passed by their [Pakistani] censor board. The reasons cited are that “the film has anti-Partition narrative theme and explicit scenes, which is against the norms of Pakistani society,” Das wrote in an article for the Scroll.in.
Das is not new to censorship as she had trouble getting her first directorial film, Firaaq (2008), cleared. But she is disappointed by the way the Pakistani censor board has viewed the film.
“To call a film ‘anti-Partition’ is actually a startling way to criticize it. With two million dead and 14 million displaced – the largest mass migration in the world to date – Partition has made an indelible mark on our shared history. But the trauma of Partition is more complex there than in India. I was sensitized to this during my first visit to Pakistan in 1996. As an Indian, I did not understand that for them, the pain of Partition violence and the joy of the birth of a new nation are deeply intertwined. Their very existence is linked to it. Yet, the reality of the violence cannot be ignored,” Das further wrote.
Das is also surprised by the reasoning that the film comprises of ‘explicit scenes’.
If cinema was not a powerful medium, there wouldn’t be bans or censorship: Nandita Das at IFFK 2018
“The other issue raised by the censor board is ‘explicit scenes’. Not sure what they are referring to, as there is no nudity in the film at all. In fact, it got a U/A certificate in India,” Das pointed out.
Remarkably, despite being cleared by the Central Board Of Film Certification in India, the film was rejected by the jury at the International Film Festival of India 2018.
“One of the IFFI jurors offered baffling reasons like, ‘The film was not understood by South Indians…neither is it dramatic nor is not non-dramatic!’ Perhaps, they were straining to justify a decision already made,” Das disclosed in the article.
The film is now available on Netflix.