indian cinema heritage foundation

A Review of the Indian Film Industry (Hindustani Sannate Filmsaazi Par Eik Nazar)

05 Sep, 2022 | Long Features by Saadat Hasan Manto

In the year 1913, Dhundiraj Govind (Dadasaheb) Phalke produced India’s first motion picture and laid the foundation stone of the film industry in India. What he dreamt of twenty-five years ago, to produce the first ever movie in India, came true when he sold the jewels of his wife to raise finances. For Dadasaheb Phalke, his dream was realised but the dream that the progressive youth of India saw has still not come to fruition. The only reason for this is, the people who are influential in this aesthetic industry here are archaic in their thoughts and actions. They are impressed by small events happening around them. They have no desire to progress. Any industry cannot touch its heights when its predominant figures have arch-conservative thinking and their lives are like stagnant waters. 
Youth of the country, whom I am representing, are those young minds who want to excel in every field of life. These youngsters, who are ambitious to touch the sky, are now like those birds of the garden having their wings clipped. They are not satisfied with the growth rate of the Indian film industry. They are puerile children, ignorant of the ways of the world and the secrets of commerce. They have nothing except they have pain for this country. The desire in their hearts and the eagerness on their glittering faces is surely respectable and all those fat-walleted businessmen who come to Indian Motion Picture Congress just to show off their wealth should bow their heads for a second in respect for the passion of these mindless youngsters.

These young Indians are thought to be sick—and they are, there is no doubt.

They are infected with love for their country. They are called crazy because they are not satisfied with the consciousness of their leaders. They, along with all Indians, want to ascend the chariot of the country to new heights, where other great nations already stand. They are willing to sacrifice their lives for this cause. They have youthful glittering blood to contribute against every jangling coin of the businessmen. This is madness, but it should be respected. India needs the warmth of this craziness all the time to its cold body of   thoughtfulness and calmness. 

We want quality movies; we need such high standard movies which we can present to other nations’ movies. We are curious and have a passion that everything in our country must be better than others. This passion is our energy to daily life. This passion and ambition is our energy and we cannot exclude it.

Before its revolution, Russia was in a worse state than India culturally. Russia had no such literary traditions. But in a short span of time, Russia produced its Wali, its Mir and its Ghalib. Their progress in the film industry is enviable. And so is also with their films. Russia has produced directors of such stature that they will remain a source of pride for all humanity. But for the last twenty-five years, which are made of 9,125 days, what have we achieved? 

Can we symbolise our twenty-five years of cinema in the form of a montage of portraits of our cinema directors who are heavily dependent on cinema barons? Can we be proud of our script writers, whose existence is only by plagiarising the writings of others? Can we showcase our movies against the movies of other countries—which seem like a thousand times copied American movies?

Absolutely not, India should make Indian films. Our hundreds of social movies, which are released in cinemas, are they reflective of Indian civilisation? The answer to this question must be in bold letters “NO”. You often see this “Indianness” in them in the form of characters in American dress and sometimes in American dhoti kurta. These kinds of absurdities are called social films. Just like the way every actor in India introduces himself as an “artist”. 

Art has not yet been defined in India. Only God knows what it is thought to be. Art is a paint-filled tub into which everyone dips their clothes. This is not art and such people are not artists who paste labels as artists on their foreheads. In India, what is called art has not yet decided about whether it should be called art or not. 

In the Indian film industry, the two most mistreated words are art or artist and the second masterpiece is film directors. If everyone in the studio, from the director to the labourers who design the set of a movie studio, is an artist …from  Harishchandra to  Sitara,  all the movies produced till today are masterpieces. What happened in doing so is that art has lost respect and masterpiece is no longer a masterpiece. 

Movies and Producers
The analyses about the worst condition of the Indian film industry are published regularly in the local press. But the press does not prove beneficial to this industry. This is because film journalism is focussed on its business, which is to make money rather than growth of substantial journalism as an industry. In this situation, newspapers and journalists are not responsible. They are paid for their thoughts and words by film producers accordingly. However, in this time of recession every person, through any means, wants to earn a livelihood and when they are paid for fulfilling the wishes of the powerful in the film industry then there is no wrong in doing this job.

There are hundreds of newspapers and magazines published in India but the reality is journalism is not yet born out of this land. If it happened so, then today we would not be saying the aforementioned words to express our weaknesses. Journalism will take its natural shape automatically. Our country will be free from ignorance and ignorance can only be removed when all educational institutions will open to the public.

There are many ways of educating citizens. The consensus is that film is the most powerful one. Through celluloid strips we can disseminate our message to the public efficiently. The heavy curriculum books become a burden on students’ minds. During school hours, many of our children fail to get education properly. In colleges, lectures influence less on the minds of students and more on their nerves. But it has been experienced that college students usually have no dislike for movies. The subject, which cannot be taught properly for months through boring lectures, can easily be taught within minutes.

Due to cinema’s universality and multifunctionality, I am of the view that for the political consciousness of Indians we need such movies that teach us something new and after watching such movies, viewers, along with entertainment, also get food for thought. Just like we need exercise for our physical health, similarly we need mental exercise for mental health too.

This is a point of sadness that, for our film producers, a movie is nothing except a business. This is true that businessmen only have interest in money-making and I have no objection to it. But I cannot live without complaining about bad taste and dark humour. Many producers make third grade movies in studios and then release them in cinemas, only with the approach to take money from viewers’ pockets through such low grade movies. This concept is totally wrong that humour is made and not created itself. If, among our public, there are people who like dark humour it is because of our producers who produce such content.

The meaningless tales of magic and myths of fairies are no longer interesting to the level our producers think, they are. Public wants to watch such movies which are close to their hearts. The ideas around physical senses cannot last long but those ideas that have connection to our soul last longer. The stunts of Master Vithal are totally evaded from the memory of viewers. Now their minds are empty and demand spiritual ideas.

We need such movies which teach us. We do not need such movies which clean up our memory. Not those which corrode our minds. We should be taught to love our language. We should be taught to love our country in a true sense. We should be taught humanity. Why do our producers not do so? Why can they not grow their business by the demand of viewers?

Need for Brevity
It gives an impression, by the unnecessarily long length of our movies from the silent era till today, that perhaps our producers start believing that our audience likes long movies. May be it has some truth. But the point is where such long length movies are impediments in the progresses of the film industry, they also have bad impact on the minds of the audience. This is the age of brevity. Getting results in the least amount of time is everyone’s approach. We see, in our movies, the idea which can be best explained in seven or eight thousand feet long celluloids stretched to fifteen or sixteen thousand feet long reels. The result of this approach is obvious.

A story, of which all of its chapters can be adjusted in eight thousand feet long celluloid, if stretched to sixteen thousand feet long celluloid like a rubber, then it would lose the durability which was in its natural length. Anyone who will try to cross set boundaries of story can never become a good script writer. Just like a rubber strap can be stretched to a specific point, the story of a movie can be stretched to a specific point and, if we cross the limit, the story will be damaged and all will be disrupted. 

Even a director of exceptional talent fails to keep the movie story-centred at an unnatural length. If the movie is lengthy, naturally its dialogue will be lengthy and actors will represent homogeneity in dialogues. If the movie is lengthy its events will be lengthy due to which it will be cripplingly slow and it will leave a very bad impression on the mind. 

In making a long movie, more settings will be used. It will increase the cost. In this way, a movie of budget sixty or seventy thousand rupees, will be produced in one lakh rupees and if the movie box-office flops it will be a huge burden of loss for producers. In long movies, directors and producers have to include unnecessary and unartistic songs and dances as elements of entertainment which make the movie boring and tasteless rather than attractive. Money is spent but the movie does not attract viewers.

The reason for this is the reality that everything has a specific space. By changing space it loses its beauty. If viewers become addicted to long movies they will start following this trend of lengthiness in real life. The results of this will be in the form of decline in every field of life.

It is important that our producers follow brevity in movies. What they are spending on sixteen - seventeen thousand long celluloids, they can revolutionise the film industry if they make a budget half of the length of these movies and can respond to those critics who have a strong dislike towards our movies.

For making a movie of two hours duration, our producers should follow the rules of Hollywood producers. If we produce comic papers or newspapers just like European cinemas then our viewers will watch and read interesting stories. Also, they will be well informed about what is happening in neighbouring countries. These people will enhance their information. They would see what is happening in the neighbouring countries and will satiate their curiosity which distance creates. For the last twenty, twenty-five years we have been watching long movies. Time has come to end this heretical doctrine and to say goodbye to lengthy movies just like the devil's intestine; instead, we must work on short movies which are not a burden on our minds. For progress of this industry, of our country, brevity is really important.  

Film Stars or Film Star Predictors
The intellectuals of Hollywood have been deciding, for the last thirty years, whether the film star is more important or the film. So extensively has this been debated that the idea of this debate itself feels boring. What can be the answer to this important question except a question that can be paraphrased in response to this as: “What have you said, whether the chicken came first or the egg?” If the answer to this can be found then surely the answer to whether the film is more important or the film star can be found. 

Frank Capra, a competent director from Columbia Pictures, recently expressed his thoughts in an English newspaper on this. He said, “I share the same thinking as those who think that the film is the most important. It is the film that makes the film star, and even the mega star cannot rescue a bad film.” 

Experiment shows that a movie is a film star-maker and film stars cannot make a movie successful at the box-office. But all do not agree with Mr Capra’s and my view. There will be hundreds of such persons who, in defence of their view and refutation to Mr Capra’s view, can frame strong arguments and examples.

In this regard, the most important thing to notice is how film stars are produced and what makes them stars. Mr Capra answered this question in an intriguing way. He says, “If all the producers of the world collect their money and give it to me (which will be a huge amount) and ask me to sort out three film stars for our film industry then I will have an empty mind for this because I do not know the place from where I can get these film stars.” During the silent era in Hollywood, film stars were from hotels, factories, and office workers. But now, the silence of movies has turned into sound and this industry has quite expanded. There is a shortage of film stars. In our movies, brothels, theatres and bawdy houses provided film stars and now our industry has progressed to a certain extent that the educated lot are now becoming film stars. And in the near and in far future, there will come a time like Hollywood when there will be a shortage of film stars. 

But I was thinking about what makes a star. Mr Frank Capra, under whose direction many big names of Hollywood have worked, is of the view that the right selection of characters i.e. reasonable cast makes stars. According to his ideology, a Chinese man’s character can only be performed perfectly by an actual Chinese man and a lame or hunchbacked person’s character can only be best performed by a real life lame or hunchbacked person.

I agree with Mr Capra’s ideology. On screen you will perform your role successfully the way you will be in real life. There is no reality left where fabrication and fakery are included.

In support of this notion, Frank Capra has presented many examples. One of them is Gary Cooper. He says Gary Cooper presents himself on screen in true colours, and because he is classy, thoughtful and a man of intellect, he performs his characters in a lively manner.

I was talking about a well-balanced and suitable cast that makes stars. But this is not the ultimate and the last verdict. That’s because only a well-balanced and suitable cast cannot make a successful movie. For the success of a movie, many other things are required which you know better. In simple words, if all parts of a machine do not work properly, the machine will not run; the same way, if all components of a movie are not perfect, a movie cannot become successful. 

The unity of cast and technicians is significant for a good movie. Just like a very expensive watch stops to move even for a second, because there is a minute particle of dirt attached to its parts, the same way a high budget movie fails due to a small and minute mistake or negligence.

The right cast is way more important and helpful than other elements in making stars. You will fully agree with me after a little thinking and research. Therefore, for hit movies and producing stars, we need such persons who are star predictors. 

The main reason for boring Indian films is the scarcity of stylish directors. For script writing and lyrics of songs, there is a need for a style which has the distinction of all the merits of literature. Only diction draws a line between poetry of a poet from that of another poet and diction of a story writer from that of another fiction writer. The same way, film directors need style or diction. If directors will not have a style then the movie will be a motion picture of homogeneity strips. 

Indian films have been produced for quite a long period. Among these movies, there are a few movies where we see the style of directors. Through this style we can know about their artistic identity. But, watching other movies, it feels the same pattern, and the same eyes. From their observation, I have reached a conclusion that, on the public's demand, producers have hired some inexperienced directors who have produced such movies which are neither understandable to producers nor to the public. 

Every day, hundreds of movies are presented in cinema houses. This is a point of sadness that very few of them are movies. Actually, those directors who make movies are short of ideas. They only know to follow the story and to give directions to take close-up shots, mid-shots, and long shots. And zoom in on the face of the heroine in many scenes repeatedly. But I failed to understand the importance of their close-up shots. Such directors are like those scriptwriters by name, who are not capable of writing a full sentence perfectly. They do not have the art of word usage.

If the movies of Ernst Lubitsch are released in cinema houses without mentioning his name then, watching his strong direction and excellent camera work, viewers can easily say it is an Ernst Lubitsch movie. Captivating landscape and a heroine flitting like a female francolin in flowers - then you easily know this is an art work of D W Griffith, who is a great lover of nature and its beauty. Similarly, the realism of Erich Von Stroheim is hard to hide. In this regard, many examples can be presented. Almost all directors of

Hollywood have nearly the same style or type and this is the reason for their success. Currently, we have two such directors in Indian cinema - Debaki Bose and V Shantaram who follow their style. Debaki Bose’s idealism gives him an edge over other directors. Rajrani Meera, Puran Bhagat, After the Earthquake and Vidyapati, in all of these you can see the dreamy vision of Bose on every inch of celluloid. His style of direction has originality; as a consequence, he is successful.  

Symbolism and a liking for greatness are two major parts of Shantaram’s work. In any movie, when you will see both side by side, your attention will be drawn to Prabhat Pictures of Shantaram. No one has a style like his. And because of this, he is distinguished among the first row of film directors of Indian cinema. 

Nitin Bose is not mentioned here because he is not a director of style. He is an exceptional self-publicist. He is skilful in promotion of his thoughts and notions and that is the reason for his enviable success.

Acting or characterisation is the ability to express various moods and emotions of humans. Like painting, sculpture, poetry, writing and music, it is one of the forms of arts. There are people who disagree with this, like Russian philosopher and famous author Tolstoy and members of his school of thought, who are strongly against the work of stage and cinema as a form of art. The notion of Tolstoy about arts is different from the rest of the philosophers. He was a strong exponent of realism and because, on stage and on screen the reality is depicted to a lesser extent, according to his thought, acting in film and theatre does not fall into the definition of arts. Everyone has his own way of thinking. 

Acting is as old as the arrival of Adam on earth. Recounting experiences of others in a persuasive way and copying the emotions felt by others is called the art of acting. When your younger brother or minor at bedtime tells you how his grandmother was afraid of a rat and hid herself in the bathroom and how her body started shaking like a leaf due to fear, at that time the child is performing the duties of an actor.  If this child's storytelling is not weak and he was successful in explaining the events of what happened to his grandmother, in such a way that you see a picture and you feel that his grandmother is trembling in front of your eyes, then it means the child is a perfect actor and has great acting talent.

In movies, the same thing occurs at a large level. The only difference is there was your younger brother or minor who, according to his inner wish, explained the situation of his grandmother; and here, many children, youngsters, old men, women, and men gather to listen to a story and narrate it to the public.

Apparently, there is a little difference in both cases but you do not know many unrevealed details, therefore you do not know when the child was narrating the whole event. For this act, he is not pushed by someone else to do so. This has generated itself in his mind. Contrary to this, in filmmaking every actor has a role and it is expected that he will perform it perfectly. 

Another thing - when the child was narrating his story, then at that time there was no one to give him direction. But when an actor starts copying fictional characters then he has more than one director, who, according to their thinking, gets work done. When the child narrated the story, there was no discontinuity in body language; however, here in cinema, angles of cameras changed and light brightened and darkened. And then, the main problem of the actor - he has a specific limitation… While offering expressions, he has to keep in mind the following -
  1. If the actors move to an inch from the mentioned place then he will be away from the camera range.
  2. If the actor turned his  face then the cameraman would fail to capture a picture of his expression  and it would lose the essence which he had in his mind.
  3. If he offered dialogues in a low tone  then it would be impossible to record the voice.
An actor faces many such challenges. Anyhow, acting or characterisation for movies is a highly difficult task. And for this, a specific mind and body are required. In Hollywood, which is the earliest film industry in the world, such persons are shortlisted after sifting and quest, who have eligibility and all the qualities of an actor. For star making, producers’ struggle can be analysed by the fact that a few members of every film studio travel to different countries for characterisation hunts. In this way, they found new actors and then they spent huge amounts of money on their education, and when their movies are released they are known to every corner of the world within a night. 

In India, when filmmaking started, singers, tabla, rubab and sarangi players became actors. Prostitutes and female scavengers became actresses. In these many years, nothing changed in this approach significantly. The sound of the man who is beautiful and melodious like a street singer, is reckoned as a successful actor and every year he acts in several movies. The same applies to feminine beauty of a woman, which makes her the best actress - which is totally wrong.

In our country, the foundation of the film industry is laid on wrong principles, which is why the art of acting is non-existent. In India, there must be such people who, if they get a chance for acting, will surely prove themselves a master in this art. Alas, this has never been done here in India.

The Sadhus of Our Movies
Even if you are not a keen viewer of Indian movies, you must have noticed one special thing about Indian movies that keeps repeating. I am talking about the fakir or sadhu who our directors love introducing into their plots. In the plot, if it is mentioned that the heroine is despondent and the director has to  show that she is despondent, dejected and be overtaken by miseries because all the responsibilities are upon her, therefore they must create such a situation that clearly depicts that the heroine is dejected. Dejected... Mr Director thinks and turns the pages of his imagination. And suddenly, the idea born in his mind is a very unique idea. He thinks why not, from the market or from the next orchard, there should be a sadhu who walks in singing sorrowful songs on chimta. The sadhu has emerged in the movies, but what happened? This would not be a sadhu, not even a beggar. And beggars do not beg by singing. Their songs are sometimes painful and their faces are not sorrowful. This touch would be based on reality. This touch!

The director nods his head with a snap of fingers and a beggar song is completed. Usually, there must be a singer available in the studio. Where needed, it is switched to singing. He does not know why he is singing. He is a singing machine that needs a key to start and this key is in the possession of our Mr Director.

I know a singer who has sung dozens of songs under every tree of the studio’s sets, by the sea, on the river bank, in a car and on the road. God alone knows how many songs he has delivered on demand, sometimes as a bearded fakir and other times as a dreadlocked sadhu. Sometimes braids on his head and sometimes a begging bowl and chimta. Sometimes ashes on his body and sometimes wearing rags and tatters…  

Such a stereotypical singer handed over to a make-up expert by Mr Director, who pastes years’ old rags and tatters on his body, applies makeup and draws some lines on his face so that he looks old and shows him a mirror, and then sends him to the set of the movie. Rehearsal of the songs starts. The tune of the sitar rises and our camera reveals our singer. And when the projector spews him out on screen, we watch the heroine sitting on a sofa. After a long shot followed by a close-up shot, the heroine’s eyes shed tears like a fountain and in the background music we hear the tune of the tabla. And the sound of a sad song emerges - 

Dile NaSaboor Udas Hai 
Mujhe Tere Dar ki Pyas Hai 
Dile NaSaboor … Udas Hai ….

(Restless heart is in desolation
I have yearning for your home
Restless heart is in desolation)

The heroine hardly sheds a couple of tears, when it’s ‘Camera Cut!’ and we are now watching that poor singing beggar in his typical dress who begins fidgeting along, singing sad songs. This song runs for seven-and-a-half minutes, during which we see the heroine’s wrong attempts at sighing with the beggar's noisy tunes. When the song ends, the heroine’s father, who was standing outside the door listening to all this, steps in to say, “My daughter! Why are you sad?” 

I want to know the reason for such stupidity in the movies. When we are sad, do the city’s sadhus and beggars announce it to the public through their songs? It can happen in a couple of films and we can forgive not more than six or seven directors for such “murder of the art”. But our taste cannot bear such foolishness while watching a movie. We are annoyed with sadhu singers and beggars in our movies.
I am telling you the truth. Around four or five years ago, when I was not really familiar with Indian films, I was fascinated by the sadhus and beggars I saw on the streets. But now the situation is such that when I spot one, I am reminded of singing sadhus from a movie and I have to turn my face away in disgust. 

I have come to realise that the main reason for introducing sadhu maharaj in our movies is the infertile minds of our directors who lack creativity and new ideas. In movies, where their minds failed to draw a picture of the script, they introduced the sadhu. And they think that they have killed two birds with one stone. A song is also presented and a side of the script is highlighted.  However, this is totally wrong. In terms of cinematic rules, this intrusion is a blunder. The audience’s attention turns away from the continuity of the script and diverts to the sadhu… who has no link with the script. He comes to the screen for a few minutes, sings, and moves away but the script is totally disrupted.

I am of the view that some of our movies must have become a big hit through this technique of introducing sadhus, which is why our producers thought it is the success secret of the movie. It might be possible that the sadhu sang so brilliantly in that movie but is it a compulsion that the sadhu is the reason for the success of all movies? Ignoring other reasons for the success of the movie, and just saying it is because the song of the sadhu, is reflective of the creative destitution of our directors and producers.

Let alone producers having bad taste, even our many well-cultured filmmakers are casting sadhus in their movies. This shows that the value of sadhus has been enhanced at the box office. In simple words, these well-cultured filmmakers have magnified the importance of the sadhu. However, if they want, they can change this bad innovation, which has turned into an ugly blot, in the blink of an eye. This sadhu is the creation of these persons and only these persons can enshroud him, perform his last rites and bury him in a grave. Those people who have the right sense of aesthetic are utterly weary of sadhus. Last year, our producers screened dozens of such sadhus in their movies. The upcoming movies should be free of such sadhus.

Villains in Indian Movies
The ideas of early American cinema dominate to such an extent in our industry that even till today, when we are celebrating the silver jubilee of the Indian film industry, we still watch those things which are odd and irrelevant in this age of modernisation. The approaches which early European cinema adopted, we are today watching on Indian celluloid, which can best explain our old fashioned minds. Till today, the movies produced in India are following a fixed line. All movies are pivotal to the same topic. If the names of the characters of the movies are changed, then there is nothing left that can distinguish them. Same script, same meaning and same technique. It seems that two or three men are standing in a queue and narrating the same story. This uniformness and similitudes are repulsive for progressive minds. It is very important to get rid of this approach.

In the early days, movie scripts were developed on three main characters: a hero, a heroine and a villain. This heresy is still followed. This triangle of characters is still glued on the big screen. Even the most professional producers pick a hero and a heroine, and then a villain emerges. There is no doubt, there must be sweetness with bitterness and light with shade should be shown but there must be art and logic while doing so.

I have no objection to the heroine and villain. They are important elements of the script. But I do have a dislike for villains and heroes who are labelled, even if they have a chance to reveal themselves to viewers. Literature and film, in my view, are like those bars where liquor bottles have no labels. The joy of revelation and exploration is more than showing it abruptly to viewers. I have the right to judge which liquor bottle is double-distilled and which one is triple-distilled. If I lose this right, then the doors of entertainment are locked for me and I have no keys to these locks.

Anyway, I cannot tolerate that all our heroes look the same. Handsome, young, brave, kind and so on. A hero who fights from start to finish. His sword is so powerful that it cuts the throats of bigwigs but others’ swords never bruise him. And his love is always true while the love of the poor villain is false. Such heroes are higher than my expectations. On the big screen, when I see such people, it feels like I am watching something very fake. My mind does not accept such things which are far from reality.

To me, a hero is one whom I am able to accept from my heart. For whom I have the deepest sympathy from the bottom of my heart. His heartbeats mixed with my heartbeats. My hero is one who is a human. A perfect example of human nature, with the good side of his personality, and the bad. My hero is not angelic because I live on earth. My hero will fly to the heights of the sky but his eyes will be at his abode which is on earth. He will reach out towards the glittering of stars just to snatch it and fix it on earth’s chest. I have no grouse against angels, but I love my fellow human beings, who share the world with me, more. 

In our cinema, I am sometimes. astounded to see pious and angel-natured heroes. I reckon they are people from another planet which is far away and, when I see the villain along with them, I am flabbergasted. This creature never seems to belong to this planet!

In our film scripts, most of the characters have no connection to reality. Just for one script, characters are shaped and later labelled as hero, heroine and villain. Sometimes, a woman is painted in such a way that she looks like a prettiest divine being. Sometimes, her photo is darkened to such a level that she looks like a witch. Woman, the way she is, is hardly in the imagination of script writers. What the reason for this fact can be is that there has been a thick curtain between men and women. Eighty percent of women in our fiction literature are too different from real life women. It’s the same difference as that between a minted coin and fake currency. Both coins may have the same weight, from a distant view they look the same in shape, but this clinking of the original minted coin is not like that of a fake one. In our fiction, women are just women but they do not have the femininity that makes a woman a perfect woman. 

There are a number of iniquitous persons among all human beings, of that there is no doubt. There are millions of such people on this planet who are more merciless than cruel butchers. People of the lowest mentality exist on this planet. There is no shortage of sinful persons. But the character of the sinful, iniquitous and cruel person we show on screen is beyond my understanding. Such characters seem like the creation of those minds who cannot distinguish between good and evil, punishment and reward, cruelty and kindness. Another thing comes to my mind when I see these ‘creatures’ which is, when they are creating such characters, they lose their senses. They get scared. If they are bound to portray their villain as sinful they are embroiled in a difficult task like they themselves are committing a crime. 

In the hesitation of doing this or that, what we watch on screen is the script writer’s uncompleted toy in the form of the villain. We also watch the mind of the script writer, among other performances of characters. That is why, when we see characters in front of our eyes, we also see the creator's mind, which seems like an old machine whose parts cannot be efficient without the thick oil of old traditions, old beliefs, and high levels of morality. This oil is extracted from Spilman’s press that does not exist anymore. Do we not search for a new lubricant?

The strangest creation of our movie script writers is the villain. His whole life is painted in sin. In the end, he became such so that the moral character of our script writers could be protected from criticism. In their view, the nature and identity of a character is their nature and identity too. If their character commits any bad deed, they think they themselves did something wrong.  Accordingly, we can suggest that they tried to hide many aspects of the character. Similarly, if their character does something good they feel they themselves did something good. Therefore, we see their smile on their character’s face. This kind of childishness and cheap emotional feeling should not be included in literature of high standard.

The plot of the story is not a chessboard, where definite characters or pawns are employed.  The plot of the story is the plot of the world, where an infinite number of pawns are involved. Plots, hero, side-hero, heroine, side-heroine, villains, side-villain, vamp and side-vamp – without all of these characters stories can be written. Only a little logic is needed.

Translated from Urdu by Ammad Ali
Ammad Ali is a freelance journalist, historian, translator and travel writer. He has extensively written on the Hindu, Sikh and Zoroastrian heritage of Pakistan.
  1. Weekly Musawwir (The Painter) ,  Bombay ( Year 1938 issues )
  2. The Pity of Partition: Manto’s life, times and works across the India Pakistan Divide  By Ayesha Jalal 2013 Princeton University Press.

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About the Author

Saadat Hasan Manto, being a short story writer, has such a powerful literary side that his journalistic and cinema career is often side-lined. Manto’s writings about cinema, like film reviews and his insights on the budding Indian industry, prove that if he could have lived in Bombay he would have contributed to Indian cinema immensely. 

This essay was published in Urdu Weekly Musawwir (The Painter) in 1938 during his journalistic career as the editor of Weekly Musawwir, when Indian cinema was celebrating its silver jubilee. It was later republished in a collection of his essays titled, Manto Ke Mazameen (Essays of Manto)


Image credit: The Hindu