Manto: Rasika Dugal’s Safia will Help You See the Man Behind the Writer
In a News18 exclusive, actor Rasika Dugal talks about Manto, his relevance today, working with Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Nandita Das, and her upcoming projects.
Actor Rasika Dugal plays Saadat Hasan Manto’s wife Safia in Nandita Das’ film on the iconic writer. (Image: Instagram/Rasika Dugal)
In a film that has Nawzuddin Siddiqui playing the titular role of a man as audacious and inimitable as Saadat Hasan Manto, little remains for anyone else.
However, actor Rasika Dugal, who plays the iconic Urdu writer’s wife Safia in the Nandita Das directorial that releases today, says she would have agreed to do even a smaller role in the film. Her deep admiration for Manto, with whom she fell in love when she was in college, is to blame.
Though little is known about Safia, Rasika says it hardly undermines her contribution in Manto’s life. “It is through Safia and the daughters that you see him as a person and not just as a writer,” she said.
Working on the film was a revelation of sorts for Rasika. Before it, she thought she knew about Manto but she knew only the writer, not the man. “When I read the script, I realised that this was the first time I was getting to know him as a person — little anecdotes from his life, that he was a doting husband and a very loving father,” said the 33-year-old actor.
Rasika’s says her experience wouldn’t have been half as fulfilling had it not been for Nawazuddin. “As an actor you can’t do anything if you don’t have a magical co-actor. Nawaz was that and more,” she said, adding that they had a “beautiful, unsaid sort of sharing.”
“I don’t like to articulate about my character because I feel that once you put things into words while you’re in a film, it becomes too clear and therefore uninteresting to watch. Nawaz understood that. We never over-articulated anything to each other. He trusted me enough to know that even without talking things through, we would both be able to sync and create something magical, which I think we have.”
She may have been acting for over 10 years now, but Rasika — known for films like Agyaat (2009) and Qissa (2015) — had much to learn on Manto’s sets, courtesy its director Nandita Das. “She is extremely fearless while being kind. My biggest learning from Nandita has been the way she speaks her mind. In that sense she is very Mantoesque. Nawaz and I used to call her Lady Manto,” Rasika said.
Though Manto — best known for short stories such as Toba Tek Singh, Thanda Gosht and Khol Do — wrote in Urdu and died over 63 years ago, Rasika is confident the Snapchat generation will be able to connect with his life and struggles. “Every good artiste or performer is timeless. Manto is that. I am sure even the younger people will relate to his stories, they are so beautifully written.”
Add to it the current debate around censorship, intolerance and freedom of expression, and Faiz Ahmad Faiz’s “Bol ke lab azaad hai” feels as relevant today as it was a century ago. Rasika agrees. “I wish it wasn’t. I wish we could take freedom of expression for granted but it’s been most threatened in the last few years. I therefore hope this film reaches many people, especially the young and helps all of us in finding the Manto within us,” she said.
It could be a landmark film in her acting career, but the FTII alumna doesn’t look at it that way. Rasika says she got interested in the project because it offered her a complete package. “I couldn’t have asked for a better combination of things. My excitement came from my love for Manto, the respect that I have for Nandita and the excitement to work with Nawaz. I didn’t think of anything else. But if it does take my career places, more than welcome. However, that was not the reason to do it.”
After Manto, Rasika has a string of interesting projects lined up. There’s a film called Hamid, another with Sanjay Mishra. Then there are two web-shows — Mirzapur and Delhi Police, which revolves around the Nirbhaya case investigation and also stars Shefali Shah and Adil Hussain.
Tell her she has her plate too full, and she smilingly says, “It’s never enough.”
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