Manjhi – The Mountain Man
Director: Ketan Mehta
Cast: Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Radhika Apte
Director Ketan Mehta has earlier made some notable biopics on important Indian personalities – films like Sardar (on India’s Iron Man Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel), Mangal Pandey-The Rising (on freedom fighter Mangal Pandey) and Rang Rasiya (on famous painter Raja Ravi Varma). For Manjhi-The Mountain Man Mehta chooses Dashrath Manjhi, another interesting Indian personality, whose exploits are not well known to general public.
Born in a poor labourer’s family, Dashrath Manjhi ran away from his village Gehlaur in Bihar. The reason was simple. He wanted to escape being a bonded labourer working for the village landlord. After spending his adolescence working in coal mines in Dhanbad, he returned to his village. He found his wife (with whom he had been married off as a child!) and started his life anew. His wife, whom he loved dearly, lost her life after slipping over the mountainous road. The imposing mountain, which separated the village from nearby towns, had always proved to be the biggest obstacle for the villagers while reaching advanced medical and educational facilities Outraged by his wife’s accidental death, Manjhi became that mountain’s sworn enemy! He vowed to break it down and make a tunnel enabling easy access to nearby town. With just a hammer and a chisel, he set out on his mission. The villagers called him names, doubted his resolve and stayed away from his Quixotic scheme. After a single-handed Herculean effort spanning two decades Manjhi finally did what he had set out to achieve!
The life-story of Dashrath Manjhi offered a great scope for film-making. A desperate driven man taking on the world for the sake of lost love and literally moving a mountain! Isn’t that a fantastic story? Mehta uses all his documentary and biopic-making skills to etch out an engaging film. He mixes drama and realism well.
Nawazuddin Siddiqui gives Manjhi’s character believability that only a few actors would be able to give. Radhika Apte as his soulmate delivers a spirited performance. The able supporting cast and the mountainous village terrain creates an authentic picture of Manjhi’s difficult life and times in interior Bihar.
At times the film becomes rambling and repetitive but overall, it is an excellent biopic, which manages to highlight not only one eccentric man’s fight against nature, but also the brutal ground reality of feudal excesses, caste-based politics, corrupt government officials and public apathy that he has to face at every step. The actual mountain starts appearing like a mole hill in comparison to these obstacles!
In Manjhi’s ultimate triumph through sheer persistence and iron will, lies a positive message for every social crusader, who is feeling daunted by the mountainous challenges lying ahead!