Starring: Nawazudding Siddiqui, Radhika Apte, Pankaj Tripathi, Tigmanshu Dhilia
Director: Ketan Mehta
Cinematography: Rajeev Jain
For Dashrath Manjhi’s sake I wish someone else would have directed this film.
Here is a story with splendid amount of potential, one that truly deserves to be told, but director Ketan Mehta doesn’t do justice at all.
This week’s release narrates the story a poor laborer belonging to the underprivileged Musahar caste living in Gehlaur village in Bihar during post-independence India (1960). The government might have abolished untouchability but it’s still the way of life for Manjhi (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) and his community.
Surviving amidst gruesome discrimination and frequent caste crimes, Manjhi falls in love with Phaguniya (Radhika Apte) and despite opposition from her family the two elope and marry. But times soon change when Manjhi loses Phaguniya to lack of medical care in his village.
From here on starts the struggle of a man who has resolved to break a 360 feet long mountain with just a hammer and a chisel.
Manjhi – The Mountain Man could have been a beautiful love story, an incredible tale of determination and a much poignant documentation of caste discrimination and bureaucratic corruption. Instead the film only manages to be a shadow of what it could have been.
Theatrical scenes, awkward dialogues and a general lack of cinematic sense makes this film barely a onetime watch. Ketan Mehta focuses his attention on way too many themes but doesn’t focus whole heartedly on any.
While much of the first half of Manjhi is about upper caste men assaulting the Dalits, raping their women and frequent threats of burning their houses, the issue almost disappears towards the latter half. Instead, sycophancy and corruption take center stage.
Mehta often refers to a rather enigmatic relationship that Manjhi shares with the mountain he’s trying to break through. He hates it, loves it, and thanks it when it gives him shelter and water. The mountain is his sole reason for living and struggling every day. It is because of the mountain that he loses his wife. He tells his children that their mother will come back when the road is made. He’s considered to be a madman by his entire village because of that mountain and that’s precisely why he lives in legends after his death.
But the mountain is just a sad undetailed set which has no individuality or character of its own. That’s a much missed element in this film. Particularly when Nawazuddin Siddiqui hugs the mountain walls, running his hands over its texture with so much love and care and the camera simply looks on from a cold distance.
A lot of the film depends on Siddiqui and Radhika Apte’s chemistry to work the magic and both the performers deliver. Apte’s Phaguniya is energetic and raw and adds a lot of individuality to her overtly sexual portrayal.
Nawazuddin Siddiqui is tremendously skilled when it comes to playing the impulsive lover and the senile madman. And he proves it again in Manjhi. Yet it is a little bit of an overdose as the film rides on his shoulders almost throughout without much respite. Siddiqui adds a lot of depth to his character yet his portrayal seems oddly similar to what he has done before.
Almost throughout, the film seems disjointed and vague. Chunks of information are given and left to trail off. Episodes from Dashrath Manjhi’s life have been picked off and strung together loosely. Such as when Manjhi gets arrested and released all in the span of 5 minutes. Such as Manjhi’s incomplete relationship with his children etc.
In a gist, Manjhi – The Mountain Man could have been a film to remember for a long time but thanks to its makers, you can now wait for it to appear on TV instead of going to the hall.