Manjhi The Mountain Man
Director: Ketan Mehta
Cast: Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Radhika Apte and Tigmanshu Dhulia
If you have the will, you can move mountains. Bihar's Dashrath Manjhi proved this adage when he did the unthinkable and actually carved a path through a mountain with just a hammer and a chisel after toiling away for 22 years. Ketan Mehta's biopic Mountain Man tells this powerful story of a common man from Gehlaur village in Bihar's Gaya district. With a spirited story and talented actors like Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Radhika Apte, Mehta has ensured that the film is true to its hero.
Both Nawazuddin and Radhika are brilliant in Ketan Mehta's Manjhi The Mountain Man.
Nawazuddin plays Dashrath Manjhi while Radhika essays the role of his wife, Faguniya. Their village lacks even the basic amenities like schools and hospitals because of the mountain that lies in its path. Faguniya dies after falling off the mountain and succumbs to her injuries for the want of timely medical attention. Before dying she tells Dashrath, "Hum pahad paar nahi kar pae, bahut uncha hai." It does not take much time for Dashrath to decide that he must break through the mountain to carve an accessible path for the villagers. Manjhi The Mountain Man traces his tumultuous journey as he struggles to make the path and has to fight friends, family and bureaucrats alike.
Nawazuddin Siddiqui plays Dashrath Manjhi, the Mountain Man of Bihar in the film.
Nawazuddin is definitely the most crucial and impressive part of the movie. During promotions the actor, who was last seen in Salman Khan's superhit Bajrangi Bhaijaan, had said that this was his most difficult role yet. But in Manjhi, you see an effortless performance. There isn't a single moment in the entire film where you can separate Siddiqui from Dashrath! Be it revolting against the zamindar or toiling for decades in the memory of his wife, Siddiqui brings out all the emotions to the fore with his facial expressions and emotes through his eyes. One of the most striking scenes is the one where Dashrath is arrested and told that he might rot in jail for the rest of his life. As he talks to himself and says, "Hum haar gaye Faguniya, lagta hai bina rasta banae hi mar jayenge," the helplessness in his eyes breaks your heart.
There is another scene where Dashrath is bitten by a snake that finds its way out in the open after he has cut through half of the mountain. He staggers, cries out in pain and soon cuts out the thumb that was bitten. Thanks to Siddiqui's acting, you can actually feel the pain he must face at the moment and his determination to live on. This is undoubtedly the kind of performance where you can say that Siddiqui deserves all the awards out there.
Nawaz also has the most powerful and touching dialogues in the film. Sample some of these:
"Hum tose itta pyaar karte hain, itta pyaar karte hain, itta pyaar karte hain, kitta pyaar karte hain? Hanuman jee ki tarah seena cheer ke dikhayein?"
"Bhagwan ke bharose mat baitho, ka pata u humre bharose baitha ho!"
And of course, the one that we’ve heard in trailers: "Pahad tode se bhi mushkil kaam hai ka?"
Nawazuddin Siddiqui in a still from Manjhi The Mountain Man.
is also one of the most touching and inspiring love stories in Bollywood. Married in childhood, Dashrath and Faguniya hardly spent four-five years together before she dies. The bond that the duo develops during that short period can be clearly seen as the reason behind the 22-year-long struggle Dashrath undertakes to ensure that no one else dies the way his wife did. Mehta, too, has brought out that romance perfectly. Every time Dashrath is about to lose his patience, Falguniya's spirit appears and reminds him why he needs to do it, charging him up all over again. And, when the villagers are celebrating after he has cut away the mountain, Dashrath sees Faguniya once again dancing along the others in a colourful attire.
As they say, God lies in details and same applies for the art of cinema. Mehta's brilliant use of minute details of the socio-political milieu of Dashrath Manjhi's world helps the story along. He has made apt use of these details to highlight the politics of caste and class with remarked expertise. Dashrath was born a Musahar (the caste of bonded farm labourers once known for killing and eating rats or moos). They are one of the most marginalised groups in India and have suffered all kinds of discrimination at the hands of the upper caste including untouchability. As a young child, Dashrath ran away from his village to escape being a bonded labourer at the mercy of the zamindar (played by Tigmanshu Dhulia) and comes back to his village after seven years, when untouchability is declared to be illegal. Dashrath is colourfully clad in bright pink trousers, yellow shirt and black shades to show that he has returned from the city - Dhanbad in this case. We see the zamindar greeting him warmly but the moment he gets to know that Dashrath is the son of one his former bonded labourers, he instinctively backs off as if from a shock!
There is one sequence where prime minister Indira Gandhi arrives in Gaya and while she is delivering her speech and raising the famous slogan of 'Gareebi hatao', the stage crumbles. People from the crowd are asked to support the stage to ensure Gandhi can continue with her speech. And there we see Gandhi as the great leader of change, only to rise up on the shoulders of the common man. The excesses committed during of Emergency is also shown in the movie, with cops and the ruling class telling Dashrath he has chosen the wrong time to revolt against corrupt bureaucrats and threatening that they can simply put him in jail, without any proof.
Manjhi The Mountain Man also touches upon the menace of Maoist violence. Fed up with the atrocities of the 'upper caste', especially the village head Nirbhay Singh, one of Manjhi's friends turns a rebel. He returns to the village with a group of men flashing guns and hangs Singh to death. And no, just because a poor man is the hero here, Mehta does not end up advocating violence. Dashrath is seen arguing with the friend-turned-Maoist and telling him that guns are no solution only to be hit for his advice.
The main themes that run throughout the movie are love, passion and the strength of a man's willpower. From fighting corrupt bureaucrats to over-indulging villagers and annoying family members, Dashrath fights all odds to ensure that he completes the task he took upon himself, one that will serve the mankind and just not a selfish emotion.
It's not that the film is without jarring points. Most of the character artists goof up with the accent while mouthing the dialogues in the dialect spoken in the region. In fact, except Siddiqui, Dhulia, Apte and Pankaj Tripathi, everyone seems to have put on a fake and forced 'Bihari' accent. The very Bollywood-ised romance between Siddiqui and Apte seems out of place as well. At best, this should have been part of dream sequences. Given the realism of the story, the flying sarees and Apte roaming around without blouses do not quite fit into the cultural milieu.
Manjhi The Mountain Man review
However, in Manjhi The Mountain Man, ignoring the small bloopers is quite easy. The inspiring narrative, the powerful love story and hard-hitting performances make for a wonderful cinematic experience. Watch it for Siddiqui and Apte's acting, watch it for Dashrath Manjhi's empowering will power, watch it for the sheer realism with which Mehta has put it all together.
And we would say that if there's one movie you want to watch this year, let it be Manjhi.
Interact with the author @swetakaushal.
Read: Dashrath Manjhi, the mountain man of Bihar
Read: Other movie reviews