Here comes, top to the list of all those ‘Man vs Nature’ ventures, our Desi filmmakers have ever tried to give life on the silverscreen, the biographical take on Bihar’s ‘mountain man’, Manjhi – Dashrath Manjhi. Manjhi went beyond every normal norms, bearing the insults of his fellow villagers that affixed a ‘mad man, lunatic’ label upon him, leaving all his natural responsibilities behind – including raising of his kids – to break apart a mighty mountain, for a simple yet, powerful reason, love.
Manjhi is a special person from the early stages of his life. He see the world differently, he successfully carves out a ‘jaandaar, jabardast, jindaabaad (great, strong, live long)’ meaning out of every life situations, be it joyous or sorrowful.
In the depiction of Manjhi’s childhood, the film goes through the dreadful cruelties of casteism and rich man-poor man divide that existed in yesteryear Bihar’s rural landscape, that still prevails in the villages of Indian hinterlands let alone Bihar. When Manjhi’s debt-ridden father tries to pawn him to the village landlord as a temporary measure to save himself from the brutal thrashings at the hands of his ‘jameendaar babu’, Manjhi relents and runs away from his village.
Seven years hence, a ‘happy-go-lucky’ Manjhi returns to his village and rekindles with his old kith and kin, also, after some innocent bravado, reunites with his wife, Phagunia Devi, whom he married as a child (Northern India of 1950’s were notorious for child marriages). Thereon, Manjhi’s life is full until his pregnant wife, Phaguniya, dies of an accident.
The very incident changes Manjhi altogether when the realization settles inside him that had there been a way through the mountain ranges guarding the village, he could have take his wife to the nearby hospital in time and saved her life.
The unflinching love of Manjhi for his wife makes him stronger enough to challenge the might of the mountain and he settles upon walking a long path towards the goal of breaking apart it in two to carve out a path. In 22-years, from 1960-1982, day-in, day-out Manjhi fought with the mountain with only a chisel and hammer in his hand, not bowing down in front of a zillion major and minor challenges, to accomplish his goal.
Years go by and his biggest foe, the mountain, is now a friend of Manjhi’s. He opens up himself in front of his new friend at the same time continues his ordeal of breaking it. When the village of Atri in Gehlaur, Bihar were hit by drought and famine, Manjhi and the mountain witness the villagers, including his father and children, staging an exodus. A drought-hit Manjhi, on the verge of a certain death, is being saved by his friend, the mountain, when it opens up its hidden treasures of aquatic reserve for Manjhi.
On the way, the film bares open various socio-politic realities of Bihar, most of which still survives in the social divide of present day Bihar. The heinous acts of village landlords upon the rural common mass, the existence and practice of untouchability and its Government-instilled ban, naxalism, the very first glimpses of bureaucrat-capitalist shabby alliance and the list goes on.
Quite impressively and interestingly, Ketan Mehta’s movie takes us through the life of Dashrath Manjhi till, when finally, he completes the carving of a path that is 360-foot-long (110 m), 25-foot-deep (7.6 m) in places and 30-foot-wide (9.1 m) that connected his village Atri to Wazirganj block of Gaya district. The path shortened the road distance from Atri, Gehlaur to Wazirganj from 55-km to 15-km.
Of late, movie aficionados have already ran out of superlatives to describe the magic Nawazuddin Sidduiqui brings into his roles. Here, too, the man is poetical in his art and can surely hope for a bunch of accolades reaching him once the awards season kickstarts. Radhika Apte as Manjhi’s wife Phaguniya Devi is full of life and is an important role for the actress on her way to big future successes.
The supporting cast, quite a lot indeed, are all in-character, do unparalleled justification to their real-life rural characters.
A brilliant support from the technical department is what made ‘Manjhi” a special film and each and everyone involved deserves special mention. Rajiv Jain’s cinematography is outstanding in this context.
Overall, Manjhi is one of those many films like Piku, Gour Hari Dastaan, Masaan etc. that brings fresh life to the Bollywood movie world where the industry is saving itself, slowly but steadily, from years of tightened clasp of run of the mill formulaic, hero-centric movies.
Give it a try, it’s simply ‘jaandaar, jabardast, and jindaabad’.