Sunday, August 23, 2015

Manjhi :The Mountain Man 

Mad Obsession

In spirit, Ketan Mehta’s Manjhi :The Mountain Man is like Last week’s release Gour Hari Dastaan—they are both about men with a cause and superhuman perseverance.

Dashrath Manjhi (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) is a low-caste man in a feudal Bihar village ruled by the typical cruel landlord (Tigmanshu Dhulia). When his beloved wife Phagunia (Radika Apte) dies after slipping down a hillock and it takes too much time to take her to the hospital in the next village across the stony hill range, the bereaved husband takes it upon himself to cut through the rocks and make a path, just with a hammer and chisel. It takes him 22 years, but he accomplishes the near-impossible task.

The film is based on a true story, which makes the man’s life all the more admirable—and Siddiqui makes the character his own, right down to the rags, scraggly hair and mad glint in his eyes. But somehow the story loses its grip after a while, because Mehta is unable to place it within a larger context.

There are nods to the rampant casteism in Indian villages, but he rushes through a Naxal episode, the Congress politics of the time, Indira Gandhi’s ‘Gareebi Hatao’ slogan, bureaucratic corruption—he ticks all the boxes, but Manjhi’s story remains strangely uni-dimensional. There are a few really powerful scenes, like Manjhi surviving a harsh drought, but also baffling ones like his march to Delhi to meet the prime minister which ends tamely. There is the melodrama of his chopping his toe off when bitten by a snake, but when it comes to his mindset, Mehta resorts to the hoary trick of having his dead wife appear to egg him on. The romance itself is a bit too ‘filmi’, including the gift of a miniature Taj Mahal, to underline the parallel between Shahjehan’s act of love and Manjhi’s obsession.

Nawazuddin Siddiqui is worth watching, and perhaps he is at a stage of his career now, when people might go to see him. The film, in spite of its inspiring character remains mostly flat and uninvolving.


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