Directed by the acclaimed TV director Sarmad Sultan Khoosat, ‘Manto’ seems like a scared attempt to explore the life of one of the most controversial writers of the 20th century. Watching the film, one might assume that its makers had restricted themselves from going beyond the seven years of the writer’s life spent in Pakistan. Set in the early ’50s, the film opens with Saadat Hassan Manto in a mental hospital admitted for treating his alcohol abuse. Soon, Manto is requested to leave the hospital as he protests the practices there, stating they are against the Lunacy Act of 1912. Manto’s wife Safia is asked to take him home assuring her that he has been cured of his addiction. The writer continues his work and during the course is accused of writing explicit content. He is tried but never convicted. The film is divided into two parts, Manto’s life where he is seen constantly struggling with his addiction and his life beyond reality and into his world of Kalwant Kaur and Toba Tek Singh. However, the film comes across more as a narration of few of the writer’s short stories and it is hard to find a connection between the two parts. ‘Manto’ is fiction based on true events. The story is perplexed where on one hand screenwriter Shahid Nadeem explores the protagonist’s struggle with his inner self and his deliriums, but on the other hand the audience is kept in the dark regarding the reasons for his pathos. The film has some poignant moments. Manto is seen devastated after he buys alcohol from the money that was supposed to buy medicine for his ailing daughter, yet the film touches the subject on a rudimentary level. Manto is portrayed only as a chronic alcoholic and writer who eventually loses his life due to addiction. Out of a career spanning over 20 years as a critic, radio play writer, journalist and a successful screenwriter in Bombay, the makers only chose to show the part where Manto migrates to Pakistan as an already established short story writer. One almost feels lost in the plot, as the filmmaker decides to stay away from the writer’s life before the Indo-Pak Partition or his reasons for settling in Lahore. The film has some genuine moments but one still feels the need to know more about Manto. The protagonist’s restlessness and anxiety is exposed throughout the film but the reason behind it is never revealed. The audience is left to wonder if it was the relationship with his wife, his troubled childhood or his need for due recognition. Despite having a rich subject, ‘Manto’ doesn’t soar. The narrative heavily relies on music and slick cuts. The pace of the screenplay is slow. The film fails to deliver, partly because the supporting characters are non-descripts. Safia is portrayed as a submissive wife; the illustrious Madam Noor Jahan played by Saba Qamar comes across more as a mistress than a celebrated singer/actress of her time. Qamar’s acting looks more like an attempt to mimic the legendary singer. Therefore, the grandeur of madam’s character is never attained. Khoosat’s reason to play Manto himself doesn’t come across either. Throughout the film the character and actor look far apart from each other. The detachment is almost overpowering. ‘Manto’ has good intentions but lacks emotional depth. We must realise that the revival of the Pakistani film industry in no way means that the audience can be tricked into watching a telefilm in the cinema. With production of films increasing by the year, it’s about time the film industry dissociated itself from television. Many films being released recently were originally penned for television. The audience is smart and may soon reject three-hour-TV serials being played in the cinema.