Cannes: HP Unveils First Feature 'Manto'

Aditya Varma

Nandita Das is directing the biopic about writer Saadat Hasan Manto.

HP is getting into the content business with Manto, a theatrical feature that marks the first time it has taken a producing role on a film. First-look footage from the film will be shown to prospective buyers today.

Manto is an biographical film, set in India during the 1940s, that tells the true story of famed writer Saadat Hasan Manto. The film is directed by Nandita Das and stars Nawazuddin Siddiqui as Manto.

HP Studios is co-producing with Viacom 18 and Sameer Dixit of Movie Makers; plans are to release the film, which is seeking distributors in Cannes, both in Hindi or with subtitles for international distribution. The goal is to complete the $2 million project by the end of the year in hopes of submitting it to film festivals.

“I first read Manto’s stories when I was in college and was fascinated by how truthful and edgy the stories were, and how contemporary they were,” Das told The Hollywood Reporter. “I wanted to make a film on his life and his work. He believed having the courage to speak the truth was important. In his writing, he addressed free speech, and women’s issues. He was also a feminist. Everything he says is extremely contemporary and addresses issues of today."

Added Siddiqui: “I hope this inspires people to have the courage to speak the truth.”

As to HP’s involvement, global head of alliances and partnerships, Jean-Pierre Le Calvez, said, “it’s a way to show how our equipment is used in filmmaking, and even more so, it was the opportunity to tell the story of Manto, who himself was the greatest storyteller in Southeast Asia, and to outline the key values that Manto was known for — tolerance, diversity — which reflect HP values.”

As to the use of HP technology in Hollywood, a notable example is the longtime technology partnership that HP enjoys with DreamWorks Animation. For Manto, HP workstations were used throughout the production, including by VFX house Prana.

Das reported that production is taking place in India, primarily on location in Mumbai, and she's relying on VFX to remove modern elements from the locations for the '40s-set story.

Asked about women in Hollywood, Das responded, "There are more and more women coming into the film industry, not just directors but cinematographers, composers — but the percentage is extremely small. There’s a lot more we need to do if we want true diversity in cinema."