How did Sonal Sehgal land the part? "Rahat called me and asked if I would like to be a part of a movie he was making on Manto's stories. And that was it. I said yes. Without even asking which story or which role. Getting to play a Manto character was definitely one off the bucket list. I have seen Rahat's earlier work and had faith in him as a director. Couple it with Manto's writing and boom I could see a winner! And I wasn't wrong", she laughs.
"Ask any actor. They all harbor a wish to play a Manto character. It is the way Manto writes his characters", says Sonal.
"They are full bodied human beings. They have both – goodness and darkness within them. No two of his women characters are alike. They are all individuals grappling with their lives. They are not props to further the narrative of the male protagonist."
Sonal Sehgal plays the famous Kulwant Kaur from 'Thanda Gosht' in Rahat Kazmi's 'Mantostaan'.
Says Sonal, "Kulwant is a strong independent woman living life on her own terms in very turbulent times. She refuses to be at the mercy of a cheating, lying lover and does not hesitate to kill him when she finds out about his infidelity. The story is set in a very dark and disturbing space and yet Kulwant strikes you as an infallible woman".
How did she prep for the movie? "I feel like I have been researching the subject since I was born. Both my parents were born in Pakistan and at ages 2 and 4, moved to India during the partition. So growing up I have heard countless stories from both sets of grand parents about those very tumultuous times. Stories both horrific and heart warming", adds Sonal.
How about getting into the skin of Kulwant Kaur? "Kulwant Kaur is a very emotionally charged, feisty, aggressive sardarni. A complete antithesis to me as a person. While her melancholy came easy to me, I really had to work to find that aggression deep inside and bring it out on camera. The role was physically and emotionally draining but very fulfilling", says Sonal.
Eye opener at Film festivalsUndergraduates in American and European Universities are literary fans of Manto's works as the team of 'Mantostaan' discovered on their tour of festivals across the world. Starting with Cannes last year, the film has toured festivals in Melbourne, San Francisco, London, New York, to name a few. The film was received everywhere with packed houses. As is the norm at film festivals, there is a Q & A session after the film screening. The team was pleasantly surprised how well versed the non Hindi/Urdu speaking audience was with the author's works during these sessions. Say Rahat Kazmi , "I was pleasantly surprised how intricately aware the audience members - who were of American/European origin- were of Manto's works. Their questions went beyond the film deep into Manto's portrayal of the times and human psyche." Clearly, Manto known to be the greatest writer in South East Asia, is a rage in the western academy today. To quote Manto himself, "…and it is also possible that Saadat Hassan dies but Manto remains alive".Amongst the accolades garnered by the film internationally and in India are 'Best director' at LAFF, 'Best Director', 'Best Actor' (male and Female) for Sonal Sehgal and Shoib Nikash Shah at RIFF, 'Best Director', 'Best Film', 'Best Actor' for Sonal Sehgal at Lake City International film festival.
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