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Manjhi: Knocking the cynicism off

Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Radhika Apte in a still from Manjhi- The Mountain Man  

For a poor man in this country life is like mountain that he has to knock off daily to make the ends meet. Most surrender to the enormity of the task and take refuge in fate but Dashrath Manjhi takes the destiny head on. You could not leave it to God for He might have left this unfinished business for you. It is this subversion of popular belief that makes Manjhi the man of the moment for a generation that revels in being cynical. His motive may be personal, but his vision is universal.

A biopic on the man who literally moved a mountain for love, through Manjhi, director Ketan Mehta comments on the state of the poorest of poor in the country, who are not allowed a share in the fruits of welfare state because of caste and corruption. That love and fidelity is not a commodity that only the rich can afford.

Along the way, through snapshots of the last six decades, the seasoned filmmaker takes us back to times when untouchability was abolished on paper but on the ground the Dalit was still spitted upon by the landlords. He cuts to the days of Indira Gandhi and the slogan of garibi hatao with a telling sequences where Indira is indulging in polemics and Manjhi is holding the stage which is about to cave in on his slender shoulders. Mehta has been a master at capturing the irony of a situation. And here again the sarcasm changes shades from innocent to acerbic. Take the usage of ‘dukh bhare din beete re bhaiya’ in the background after the abolition of untouchability. And it is not always in words. A low caste woman is thrown into a pond full of pink lotus after being raped.

Manjhi comes from a family where caste hierarchy is so deeply ingrained that at one point, against the run of play, when a friend asks him it takes him more than a moment to decide whether he belongs to human or rat race. It is a light scene but the gravity of the import is substantial.

Set in Gahlour, one of the most backward regions of Bihar, Manjhi is a high pitched character who wears his emotion on the sleeve. It gets even more colourful when Phaguniya comes into his life. Nawazuddin Siddiqui gets the measure of the man and together with Radhika Apte generates such unalloyed passion that it drives the film through the uneven and dry patches that emerge later in the narrative.

When Phaguniya dies, he holds the mountain that stands between his village and the town, between deprivation and opportunity, responsible and decides to bring it down.

Love is the driving force of Manjhi’s life but Mehta doesn’t romanticise the idea beyond a point. Yes, he captures the mad conviction of a man who wants to take on Nature and gradually develops an envious bond with it. At times he teases the mountain, at times he threatens it but over a period of time Manjhi discovers that life beyond the mountain is as unequal as in his village. That the mountain is just a dummy obstacle like many others that the system nurtures to disorient the common man. Despite attempts to tone it down, Radhika comes across as refined in mofussil surroundings. No such issues with Nawaz who ensures that ennui doesn’t set in even when the film acquires the tone of a docu-drama.

Taking cue from Manjhi: jabarjast zindabaad!

Manjhi: The Mountain Man

Genre: Biopic

Director: Ketan Mehta

Cast: Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Radhika Apte, Pankaj Tripathi, Tigmanshu Dhulia

Bottomline: Honest execution and eye catching performances of the leads make Manjhi immensely watchable.

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Printable version | Oct 24, 2020 11:08:11 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/manjhi-knocking-the-cynicism-off/article7566324.ece

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