Cannes 2024: Amul MD on restored ‘Manthan’, India’s first crowdfunded film

Jayen Mehta, MD, Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation (GCMMF), walked the red carpet at Cannes with Naseeruddin Shah, Ratna Pathak Shah, and late actor Smita Patil’s son Prateik Babbar; he talks about ‘Manthan’’s legacy and releasing the restored version in theatres

Updated - May 21, 2024 05:16 pm IST

Published - May 21, 2024 04:29 pm IST

Jayen Mehta speaking after the screening of ‘Manthan’ at the 77th Cannes Film Festival

Jayen Mehta speaking after the screening of ‘Manthan’ at the 77th Cannes Film Festival | Photo Credit: ARSI SEBASTIEN PHOTOGRAPHE

On May 17, something remarkable unfolded at the Cannes Film Festival. A 4K restoration of Shyam Benegal’s parallel cinema classic Manthan was screened at the Salle Buñuel theatre in the Cannes Classics sidebar. The film, released 48 years ago, was India’s first crowdfunded film: 5,00,000 farmers donated ₹2 each to bring the project to fruition. Its unusual patronage was in keeping with the grassroots movement it extolled: the efforts of Varghese Kurien to drive a milk co-operative in Anand, Gujarat.

Kurien, popularly remembered as the Milk Man of India, was the architect of the nation’s dairy revolution. His modernising efforts liberated dairy farmers from the clutch of monopolisers, turned India into the world’s leading milk producer and transformed the Anand Milk Union Limited (AMUL) into a global brand. Today, AMUL is the largest co-operative dairy brand in Asia.

Jayen Mehta, Naseeruddin Shah, Shivendra Singh Dungarpur,  Prateik Babbar and others at the Cannes red carpet in France on May 17

Jayen Mehta, Naseeruddin Shah, Shivendra Singh Dungarpur,  Prateik Babbar and others at the Cannes red carpet in France on May 17

Jayen Mehta, MD, Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation (GCMMF), known by its brand name AMUL, walked the red carpet with Naseeruddin Shah, Ratna Pathak Shah, and late actor Smita Patil’s son Prateik Babbar. Also in attendance was Shivendra Singh Dungarpur, founder-director of the Film Heritage Foundation (FHF) that undertook the restoration, and Nirmala Kurien, daughter of the late Kurien. Shyam Benegal, 89, could not attend the festival owing to his frail health.

The Manthan contingent had a tight itinerary: a media briefing at the Bharat Pavilion at Cannes, followed by the red carpet and screening. The film received a five-minute standing ovation in a packed hall, shares Mehta, who joined Shah, Babbar and Dungarpur for a Q&A session on stage. “I spoke about the current-day relevance of Manthan and shared some statistics with the audience,” Mehta says. “AMUL’s turnover 50 years ago was a humble ₹20 crore. Today, our target revenue is . ₹80,000 crore. Milk is the largest agricultural crop and we have 2,00,000 milk dairy co-operatives in the country.”

A standing ovation for ‘Manthan’ at Cannes

A standing ovation for ‘Manthan’ at Cannes

“When people measure the success of a film, it is by the box-office numbers,” he adds. “But Manthan’s success in this light is incalculable.”

Benegal’s film, which won the National Award for Best Hindi Feature, was India’s submission to the 1976 Oscars and had a lasting impact, highlighting the plight of dairy farmers in newly Independent India and the barriers of caste and gender oppression they faced.

“It raised pertinent issues like women empowerment that continue to resonate,” says Mehta. The film forms an integral part of the cultural legacy of AMUL. “Anyone who joins the co-operative, the first film we show them is Manthan.”

Smita Patil and Girish Karnad in Manthan

Smita Patil and Girish Karnad in Manthan

Mehta is effusive in his praise of the ultra-high-definition restoration of Manthan. The film was restored and digitised from its original camera negative over a 17-month period. The Gujarat Co-operative Milk Marketing Federation funded the venture.

“The work that the Film Heritage Foundation has done with Manthan is awe-inspiring,” Mehta says. “The sound, colours, textures, grain... it’s all come out wonderfully. In fact, when Benegal saw it, he said it looked better than the original.” Sanjay Jaju, Secretary, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, who attended the Manthan briefing, reiterated the Government’s intention to restore 4,000 films in our national archives, Mehta adds.

Following the reception at Cannes, the restored version of Manthan will be released in select theatres in India on June 1 and June 2. A premiere show is also planned in Mumbai, with Benegal and other surviving cast and crew members in attendance. “The film will be released in a minimum of 30 cities across the leading multiplexes,” Mehta says.

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