Mantostaan: Well-meaning but not accomplished enough

Film: Mantostaan

Cast: Raghubir Yadav, Sonal Sehgal, Veerendra Saxena, Raina Bassnet, Rahat Kazmi, Tariq Khan, Sakshi Bhatt, Aditya Pratap Singh, Shoib Shah

Director: Rahat Kazmi

A chain-linked compilation of 4 stories based on the Indo-Pak partition of 1947, this attempted dark satire plays largely flat and ineffective in its effort to make a point on the inhumanity of communalisation of the human race.

Given the context there’s bound to be tragedy in each of the four stories. Khol Do is about a girl who gets lost in the panic of partition and is looking for a way back to her father when she gets waylaid by four men who claim to be emissaries of her anxious father, sent to rescue her. What follows is an act of betrayal and inhumanity that is unforgivable.

The other three stories are equally poignant, punctured with an inhumanity and darkness that sears into your consciousness given the sheer heartlessness of their acts. ‘Thanda Ghost’ has Ishan Singha rape a dead women and steal her jewels to gift to his passionate wife. Assignment has Gurmeet Singh’s son keep his father’s promise of delivering sweets to a Muslim Judge’s home on Eid, while leading sword wielding assassins to their doorstep and Aakhri Salute has two friends meeting up on either sides of the makeshift border, showing off their camaraderie while playfully firing at each other – only to wreak yet another tragedy.

Manto’s writing may be about the past but it still bears resonance and relevance to today’s geopolitical situation and the never-ending, forever fiery, Indo-Pak hostilities that disturb the region. Even the cruelest in Manto’s realm has a conscience – unfortunately it only comes into play after the dastardly deal is done. So redemption is not easy here even though realization sets in with quite a sucker punch.

The problem here lies not in Manto’s writing but in the scripting and intercutting that mixes up the narratives and does not allow for any emotional connect. The Pace is lazy, there’s hardly any tension in the telling and the performances feel strained and disconnected. The costumes don’t look lived in and the unadorned tempo disallows any empathetic affection for either the victims or the villains.

It’s a tableau of horror that might have shocked you if told with a telling tension and depth. Unfortunately, Director Rahat Kazmi isn’t able to find a via medium that could have made this experience more fulfilling. Certainly, a noble effort, but a largely unaccomplished and disappointing one!

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