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When Manto Went Crazy For 8 Days…

The breakaway group from Bombay Talkies, that had formed a new company, Filmistan Ltd, was preparing their new project to release in 1946. The film, titled 8 Days, starred earlier Bombay Talkies’ and now Filmistan’s leading male star, Ashok Kumar, with a relatively new girl, Veera. It was produced and ghost directed by its leading man but its direction was credited to editor-director DN Pai. According to the writer of the film, Saadat Hasan Manto, Pai did not direct even an inch of 8 Days and that it was entirely Ashok Kumar’s baby. In his collection of writings in Urdu on his experiences in the Bombay Film Industry of the 1940s that was translated into English as Stars From Another Sky, Manto, who migrated to Pakistan in 1948, mentions, “At Bombay Talkies, the film director was not a prima donna as elsewhere. It was all team effort and when the film was ready for release, one member of the team would be credited with its direction. We had adopted the same system at Filmistan. DN Pai was a film editor and a good one so it was decided that he should be mentioned as the director of the film.”

Song booklet cover of 8 Days (1946)

Song booklet cover of 8 Days (1946)

An important supporting role in the film was that of a shell-shocked air force officer who had lost his marbles, Flight Lieutenant Kirpa Ram. Initially, S Mukerji, one of the founding heads of Filmistan, was cast in the role. Everything was going to plan and Mukerji’s costumes were stitched as well, when he backed out of the film at the last moment, terrified as he was of facing the camera. This caused shooting to be held up for quite a while as the film was now without a key actor. Finally one day, Ashok Kumar burst into Manto’s room where the writer was busy with the rewriting of some scenes from the film. He placed Manto’s papers aside and asked him to follow him. According to Manto, “I got up because I thought he wanted me to hear one of the new songs in the movie. However, when we ended up on the set, I asked him what was up. ‘You are playing the crazy,’ he announced.”

Manto thought Ashok Kumar was out of his mind but soon realized he was dead serious. And with additional pressure put on him from lyricist Raja Mehdi Ali Khan (who had also been coerced into playing a small role in the film), Manto found himself playing the shell-shocked officer in 8 Days. However, it wasn’t easy. As Manto recalled, “Only God knows how terror-stricken I felt in front of the camera.”

Fortunately for Manto, his reel life experience of playing ‘the crazy’ had a happy ending as according to him, 8 Days was appreciated by the film going public as a good comedy. Real life, however, was nowhere as rosy as Manto found himself admitted in Lahore’s mental asylum for a while in the early 1950s even as he battled his inner demons and alcoholism in Pakistan.

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