No place for Manto in #NayaPakistan

Pakistan has banned the biopic on the great Urdu writer, but Pakistanis have found a way to watch it.

WrittenBy:Umer Farooq
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Pakistan is a nation where mass media is considered a tool in “Fifth Generation Warfare” instead of a watchdog and hence, censorship is justified in the name of vaguely and narrowly defined “national interests”. So, a recently imposed ban on the biopic of great Urdu writer, Saadat Hasan Manto, should not come as a surprise.

The ban has already become the talk of the town in Islamabad, with major newspapers and local magazines giving special coverage to the movie and its review. However, despite an official ban on the film, Manto could be described as a movie that is most watched in upper and middle-class Pakistani households, and also one that has become the subject of drawing-room discussions in big cities.

But why was the movie banned in the first place?

First of all, Manto’s short stories don’t share the Pakistani State’s narrowly-defined reasons which led to the creation of Pakistan. Therefore, despite the fact that the State has bestowed the highest civilian award on him, Saadat Hasan Manto’s non-communal views on partition are not welcomed here in the country.

Secondly, the fact that biopic was made in India—and by an Indian producer—didn’t do much to endear the project to those who have the power to impose a nationwide ban on the movie.

Two objections were raised in a meeting by the Pakistani Censor Board, during which the decision to ban the movie was taken: first, the movie didn’t present a correct version of the partition (according to the Pakistani State), and second, that the movie contained some objectionable scenes. Also, nobody from the Censor Board announced the ban. Instead, it was announced by the filmmaker herself. “Disappointed that Manto will not be seen in theatres in Pakistan. I was keen as he belongs to both countries equally,” said actress and filmmaker Nandita Das in a tweet.

A senior official of the Pakistan Censor Board in Islamabad told Newslaundry on the condition of anonymity that there was nothing in the movie that could not be deleted from the reel with minor/few seconds edits.

The ban hardly makes any sense in the real world, away from the myopic world of Pakistan’s decision makers. Manto was selling like hot cakes in Pakistani cities. “So far, I have sold 300 copies of Manto,” said a CD shop owner in Saddar Bazzar, Rawalpindi city.

There has been a revival in the popularity of Saadat Hasan Manto and his writings in recent years in Pakistani society. Many local publishing houses have reprinted his short stories in the form of colourful books. Manto has also seen a revival of sorts among the upper and middle classes in big cities.

One clear indication of this came when the country’s Federal Information Minister, Fawad Chaudhry, jumped into the controversy surrounding the ban. Chaudhry took notice of Das’ sdisappointment over the ban on Manto in Pakistan and tweeted to her, saying, “I am trying to pursue importers to bring this movie to Pakistan. I hope someone will definitely take risk of showing a less commercial film to the viewers.”

Some influential writers and journalists wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Imran Khan to allow the film to be released. Das was overwhelmed by this action from Pakistani citizens, and stated that “Pakistanis defending a film from India shows that we are united in our pursuit of peace and justice.” The filmmaker also said that Pakistan’s Censor Board had raised the issue of “explicit scenes”. However, in her article, Das had stated that there was no nudity in the film.

Manto and his writings had also faced charges of obscenity and nudity from the Pakistani government. The playwright and author had faced trials in this regard as well. He was finally embraced in Pakistan in his centenary year in 2012, and posthumously, was conferred the highest civilian award—the Nishan-e-Imtiaz.

Over time, Pakistani society has grown, developed, and branched out in various directions. It is now almost impossible for the Pakistani State to put an iron curtain around this evolution that has taken place in its society. Nevertheless, from time to time, they wish to do just that and transform it into a camp to run the “Fifth Generation Warfare” (a popular term used to refer to a type of non-contact warfare in which you destroy a specific target without a human directly seeing it.)

Culture and literary activity are permitted only if it serves the purpose of the “Fifth Generation Warfare,” otherwise, just like Manto, all things cultural and literary will need to be banned.


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