Also In the Series
If you ever wonder what would had happened if Manto didn’t migrate to Pakistan or he had not lost his senses. What would be his stories like, what would be his writing about. What would be his impact in community and films or what would be his legacy. Sure there were always evidence of his self-destruct nature in his earlier part of life as well but still one wonder that with the stable job with Bombay Talkies or Filmistaan, the company of his close friends, and marginally more progressive society would have done to him.
I always imagine the impact in films and industry that Manto may had have in post-independence cinema of India. And one of these fruitless “what-ifs” needs a benchmark, and for this convenience of my love for both these writers, Ismat and Manto, I compare Ismat Chughtai’s film career with what could have been Manto’s career.
Though both Ismat and Manto were progressive Urdu writers, and fought court cases for the stories they had written but the similarity between them ends there. Manto wore his arrogance on his sleeve, ever ready to argue or shoot down an argument. Ismat, maybe outspoken herself, but had a grace and conviction that aged over people over time like a fine wine. There was always a friendly vibe between them and they always found something to argue about. It is true that Lahore cases against Manto (for his Story Bu ) and Ismat for obscenity charges against their respective stories bought them together- there is little or no proof that they were friends before that. Lihaaf was the short story that had caused Ismat that the most problems with the social criticism and legal cases for portraying female homosexuality. It was also for of her most important work and it became of poster story for female oppressive writing in India for the years to come. Later when Ismat came to Mumbai and became an important contributor in Indian cinema, she did admit that Lihaaf did bring too much pressure on her that made her sick ( You can read the English translation of Lihaaf, or the Quilt and Other Stories published by Penguin ) .
She made her debut as a screenwriter with 1948 hit drama Ziddi starring Pran and Dev Anand ( Not his debut though but definitely his first major role ). She started writing dialogues and also ventured into directorial. Faraiab was her directorial debut which was also based on one short story written by her. Sone Ki Chitdiya (1958) established her as a film maker and film writer that followed the story of a child actor who was exploited and abused.
But the movie that made most impact on me and the film lovers from different generation was the film based on her unpublished short story- “Garam Hava”. Not only Ismat, but this film had collaboration of many Indian artists such as Ustad Bahadur Khan, who gave the background score, the qawali in the film was performed by Warsi brothers and was written for screen and lyrics were by Kaifi Azmi. It was also the last contribution by Balraj Sahihi who was the lead in the film ( He died before the release of the movie.) Based in Agra, Garam Hava is a story of the north Indian Muslim patriarch who post independence deals with dilemma of choosing between staying back in India or migrating to Pakistan, like most of his relatives. (This movie also launched Farooq Shaikh film career)
Not only in books and films, you can also relive Ismat’s stories in theater. “Ismat Apa Ke Naam”, a series produced by Nasurddin Shah’s company. Ismat Chughtai was awarded Padma Shri by Government of India and her contribution as a filmmaker and literary realism is widely appreciated in modern India. I saw Ismat laughing and bantering with Manto in Nandita Das’ movie and that provoked a chain of thoughts on Ismat, Manto and what-ifs of the film career of Manto. I don’t know if Manto would have similar impact as Ismat in Indian Cinema but I am certain that there will be certainly one or two gem that would have unearthed.
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