Manto is on the move in Cannes. The first look of Nandita Das' upcoming film, unveiled at the 70th Cannes Film Festival, has triggered much interest among buyers and festival programmers looking for India-themed content.

The director, on her part, feels that her sophomore venture is an extension of sorts of her first film Firaaq, made in 2008, "although that is not the intention".

She says: "The stories that I chose for Firaaq were more dramatic, but the spirit of the new film is pretty much the same." 

"Manto was a politically engaged writer whose work was infused with deep humanism. He gave voice to the voiceless by turning the spotlight on factory workers, prostitutes and others existing on the margins of society," says Das, explaining why her film is timely.

Having had to abort plans to shoot parts of Manto in Lahore given the frosty Indo-Pak ties, Das has settled for Mumbai as the principal location. She will film on real locations and use VFX service provide Prana Studio's expertise to disguise the backdrops.

Manto focuses on four years of the life of the iconic Urdu writer who presented brutally honest portraitures of the madness that gripped the subcontinent in the late 1940s. "The relevance of his stories hasn't diminished one bit. If anything, it has increased," she says.

With 12 days of filming left to go, Das, who took a few days off from the shoot to be in Cannes along with lead actor Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Rasika Dugal (who plays Manto's wife Safia), hopes that Manto will be ready by the end of 2017 to catch next year's early film festivals.

Naither of the principal actors can wait to see the film take final shape and hit the screens. "Nandita has done a lot of research before embarking on the project," says Siddiqui.

"What could be better for an actor than a director who gives him every minute detail about a character?" 

While a lot is known about Manto, very little information is available in the public domain about his wife. "I will have some room for interpretation of what made Safia what she was, a woman who stood firmly by Manto," says Dugal.

Manto the film has acquired global proportions with HP coming on board as one of the producers. This is HP's first foray into film production.

Says the company's global head of alliances and partnerships Jean-Pierre Le Calvez: "This will give us a chance to demonstrate how our equipment is used in filmmaking.

It will also allow us to bring the story of one of south-east Asia's greatest writers to the world." 

Mumbai-based Viacom 18 Motion Pictures is one of co- producers of Manto. "The abiding relevance and power of the story of Manto drew us to the film six to eight months ago," says Ajit Andhare.

Manto was announced at last year's Cannes Film Festival.

It is only fitting that the hotly anticipated independent film has decided to use the latest edition of the festival to leapfrog on to the global radar