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Art For Social Change: Talk And Film With Ms. Nandita Das

Geetha Patil

MIT-India, under its joint auspicious venture with the MIT School of Engineering and the Office of the Associate Provost organized an exciting program on Art for Social Change: Talk and Film with Ms. Nandita Das on Monday, March 11, 2019, at MIT Stata Center, Cambridge, MA, at 5:00pm.

This event began at 5:00pm with a glowing introductory note by Prof. Philip S. Khoury, the Ford International Professor of History and Associate Provost at MIT. He welcomed sincerely all the audiences and introduced Ms. Nandita Das to them with lots of admiration for her and her works.

Ms. Nandita Das is an actor, filmmaker and social advocate. She shared why she chose to tell the story of Manto and the difficulties of making an independent film in the mainstream film landscape. Then, the screening of film, Manto, written and directed by Nandita Das started at 5:30pm. Manto is a 2018 Indian biographical drama film about the famous Urdu author Mr. Saadat Hasan Manto. This film was premiered at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival, France and released in Indian theatres on 21 September 2018.

The story of the film narrates the circumstances that made him to migrate to Pakistan and the challenges he faced in Pakistan due to his progressive writings. The Independence of India led to the Partition, Mr. Manto was compelled to make a difficult choice of leaving his beloved Mumbai (Bombay) for the newly born Pakistan.  When he left for Lahore, he was a well-established short story writer and a scriptwriter in the Mumbai film industry although Mr. Manto had a tenuous relationship with the Progressive Writers’ Association. The melancholic conditions, a growing sense of isolation and a deep sense of betrayal made him to struggle a lot and accept his new reality. He was involved in the relentless and long-drawn court trials due to his fiction short story Thanda Gosht (Cold Meat, published in 1050) that took a severe toll on his health and finances. He was charged with obscenity for this story and faced a trial in criminal court. He coils into a state of perpetual drunkenness and his marriage falls apart. He was convicted for his statement in defense of literature and free speech. Despite this, he continues write some of his sharpest and most courageous works. His compulsions to write and drink are in direct conflict with his desire for a happy and secure family life. His failing health makes him hallucinate and he finally admits himself into the alcohol rehabilitation center in Lahore Mental Hospital.

The inconclusive ending of the film left the audiences with many questions in their minds to think and draw their own deductions about what happened to him, why he didn’t move back to Mumbai even though he was longing to move back, what were the reasons for staying in Pakistan even though he was an active Muslim and many more questions.

After watching this movie, audiences asked many questions to Ms. Nandita Das. She provided her own explanations and tried to clarify the complex the questions intelligently. Prof. Khoury thanked Ms. Nandita Das for sharing her thought-provoking film and answering questions of the audiences. He also thanked all the audiences for their active participation.

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