Man has a strange relationship with mountains. Mountains are home to spiritual quests, adventurous pursuits, social retreat, escapades, wars and waterfalls. This relationship was never celebrated in Indian films the way Ketan Mehta has done in Manjhi – The Mountain Man. A true story locks horns with a fictional tale and blends to become an epic worth celebrating – just like those joyous rural folks celebrating a newly carved path – Dashrath Manjhi Pathh.
If the mountain will not come to the prophet, the prophet must go to the mountain.
(If perfection will not come to the actor, the actor must go to perfection)
Nawazuddin Siddiqui is an actor who can push his limits to achieve that elusive perfection and enamour you with his awe-inspiring performance. This time, he makes you believe he’s Dashrath Manjhi – the man fondly called as ‘The Mountain Man’, who single-handedly cut through a hill to create a path for his village, Gehlaur in Bihar.
Faith will move mountains
(Performance will move mountains)
Radhika Apte as Phagunia makes her presence felt all across, which is indeed a colossal task, given the performance of Nawazuddin. She is convincing as a rural toy seller married to a Nawazuddin as a kid, yet has to rebel against her father to unite with her husband. Tigmanshu Dhulia reprises his ‘Beta tumse na ho paayega’ish villain act, this time as Mukhiya, a man synonymous with feudalism.
Tigmanshu Dhulia is so comfortable in his skin that reminds one of Mohan Agashe in Satyajit Ray’s tele-film classic, ‘Sadgati’ starring Om Puri and Smita Patil. Pankaj Tripathi adds a new shade to the villain’s right hand, who thankfully isn’t a Shakti Kapoor or Gulshan Grover. Prashant Narayan – that deep-toned actor you saw in underrated gems like ‘Chhal’ or ‘Waisa Bhi Hota Hai Part 2’ makes an impact with a labourer-turned-naxalite role. Gaurav Dwivedi as Alok Jha a journalist inspired by Dashrath Manjhi to open his own publication doubles up as the film’s narrator and leaves his mark as an actor.
Make a mountain out of a molehill
(Make a fiction out of a fact)
To begin with, making any biopic isn’t a cakewalk and the writers and directors often face flak for taking creative liberties. Hence the disclaimer – ‘Inspired by’ and not ‘Based on’. If Ketan Mehta was supposed to narrate the story of a man who paves a path from the mountains the way it actually happened, ‘Manjhi – The Mountain Man’ would have come across as some obscure documentary film.
As an audience, we don’t know whether the real Manjhi actually kidnapped his child bride from her home, walked all the way to Delhi to protest, chopped his toe to resume his battle against the mountain or actually saw his dead wife motivating him to go on.
Perhaps these incidents never took place and we aren’t keen to know about its authenticity because Ketan Mehta, with his able direction makes these incidents believable, so much so that you are moved to tears the moment Manjhi loses his love, enraged when he is betrayed, and inspired when he says: Bhagwaan ke bharose mat raho, kya pata Bhagwaan tumhaare bharose baitha ho – and that’s really what matters, isn’t it?
To rule the mountains is to rule the river.
(To rule the emotions is to rule the narration)
When it comes to narrating a story of this kind, there has to be a motivation for its lead actor that makes him go on and on. What begins with a rage against the mountain for being responsible of taking his beloved’s life transforms into love for the same mountain to provide nourishment even to his ‘opponent’ in a symbolic battle between man and nature. There’s a subtle message here: The nature will nourish you even if you destroy her. This is precisely what the mountain does during a drought. This later takes a social reform shade, when political parties step in.
Despite its social reform angle, ‘Manjhi – The Mountain Man’ essentially remains a love story of Dashrath Manjhi and Phaguniya. Theirs is a love story that touches you to the core and makes you root for them, right from the moment their eyes meet each other. Now that’s quite rare in love stories of our times. All we get to watch these days are lust stories with lahu muuh lag gaya and saari night besharmi ki height.
A mountain to climb
(A movie to watch)
At the risk of sounding a spoiler, one cannot rave about the best scene of ‘Manjhi – The Mountain Man’, where Indira Gandhi (Ably played by Deepa Sahi) addresses a rural crowd standing atop a wrecking stage, balanced on the shoulders of common men. When was the last time you saw such an intelligent way of depicting our political scenario?
Now before you utter the ‘spoiler’ word, let me assure you that despite reading this, you’ll still enjoy this gem of a scene. In fact, you’re already keen to watch it just to know how this scene transpires on screen, isn’t it? Well, believe me, taking your time off to watch this brilliantly inspiring film isn’t a mountain to climb or rather mountain to break. So, take a break and catch up with this inspiring dude, Manjhi – The Mountain Man. As Dashrath Manjhi would like to put it: Shaandaar. Zabardast. Zindabad!