Manjhi: The Mountain Man is a story of grit that stems out of one man’s resolve to have a go at a rocky mountain with full might of angry revenge. Dashrath Manjhi was a man from Bihar’s Gehlaur village who kept chipping away for 22 years, rock by rock, to make a passage to the nearest town Wazirganj that was otherwise far away, and the only route was circuitous, around the mountain. All this because his wife had died due to a delay in reaching the nearest medical help, which was available in the town on the other side.
Director: Ketan Mehta
Cast: Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Radhika Apte, Ashraful Haque
Nawazuddin Siddiqui is Dashrath Manjhi in the movie and Radhika Apte is aptly cast in the role of his wife Phaguni, or who he lovingly addresses as Phaguniya. Siddiqui does more than justice to Manjhi’s character and comes through as the eccentric, hopelessly in love with his wife, extremely poor with barely any means of survival, somewhat-loony man one uphill step at a time. The death of his pregnant wife leaves him devastated and as he challenges the mountain, still clad in clothes splattered with his wife’s blood, that he’ll bring him (the proud mountain) down.
The feel is rustic and you can almost smell the heat and soil. Tigmanshu Dhulia and Pankaj Tripathi depict the perfect upper caste father-son duo. Ashraful Haque, who passed away in February this year, excellently plays Manjhi’s constant nagging father. He is known for his performances in Fukrey, Company and Paan Singh Tomar among others.
Director Ketan Mehta wins in bringing out inhuman treatment, including rape, badhua mazdoori , and murder of the lower castes by the upper castes while untouchability was just about abolished in India in 1956.
Political undertones are unmissable throughout the length of the film from caste divide, child marriages, Indira Gandhi’s gareebi hatao to Emergency in 1975, a poor man’s plight and resolve despite being a headline news is soon forgotten, corruption that makes inroads as the babus sitting between the Centre and the aam aadmi pocket all that was sanctioned towards building of a road, to the sprouting if Naxalism from amongst those whose families were tortured and raped. Mehta impressively manages to neither glorify nor draw pity towards any of these events.
Two things that were off: the not-so-great digital effect of the fire on the mountain and melodramatic background music at various points in the movie.
One line that stood out for me was: Sarkaari changul mein phansa to bhagwaan bhi surrender bol deta hai. Depicted for a time between the 50s and the 70s, rings true till date!
Siddiqui, as expected, wins your heart as Dashrath baba. Do watch this story to know about the life of one of our homegrown heroes, who unfortunately remain unheard of until a big movie comes along.
(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily of ScoopWhoop)