Just like the Heroic story of Dashrath Manjhi of Gehlor in Gaya district of Bihar was dusting off in the chapters of History but revived again by Ketan Mehta’s commendable attempt of visualizing the legendary struggle on celluloid. I decided to make a comeback and revive my blog by reviewing a film probably I don’t even deserve to talk about. Why? Because it is very easy for many of us to sit in our cushion-y chairs & be all critical about someone’s work but it is equally difficult to try our hands on any one of the aspects of the hardwork that goes in to achieve something by these people. Here’s story of ‘Manjhi- The Mountain Man‘:
A villager from the lowest of the condemned caste system be it based on religion or tradition can be compared to a filthy pig which tries of find food in the waste that we set off in the open grounds. Can we imagine living such a life? It is hard, extremely hard for anyone of us to even think of being in such a state even in our wildest dreams! But that is the everyday story of an honest Indian village man who is punched by every other person in the name of establishing law & order by so-called Panchayats in their respective villages. Dasrath (played by Nawazuddin Siddiqui) is one such man whose journey in the film takes us through various stages of traditional evils like Child marriage, dowry system, bride trafficking & corrupt landlords.
After his marriage at an age we all struggle to learn the tables of 8 & 9, he is forced into becoming the slave of the Panchayat head (Tigmanshu Dhulia) to repay his father’s (RIP Ashraf-ul-Haque) loan. But he decides to run off & succeeds in crossing the mountain of burdens (which restricts the village of Gehlor to connect to the town of Wazirgunj for an easy access). He moves to the city to work in the coal mines & returns home after 7 years being homesick. On his way back, he spots this beautiful Goddess in the form of a woman, Phaguniya (Radhika Apte) trying to sell her hand made toys to earn for her family. He falls in Love at the first sight & we know why:
I want to thank Radhika for being herself & reestablishing the fact that a True beautiful Indian woman is the woman we see around us. She doesn’t have to be fair, wear skimpy clothes or apply tons of make up. She needs to be simplistic & real. Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder, move over artificiality men, the woman of your Dreams is around you!
Dasrath has returned & now he’s jobless. Hence, Phagunia’s father refuses to send his daughter to the Manjhi family, despite they having paid a 100 Rupees in ‘buying’ her from him. He wants to sell her for 200 Rupees now because he has a new offer from a ‘City Man’. We are enlightened about three major backward ideologies, bride trafficking, male member as the earning head of the family & the obsession with a foreign groom, apart from rape and domination of the landlords! Another issue dealt with here is the fact that Dasrath hugs the Panchayat Head to congratulate him for the abolishment of the Caste system when he’s beaten up for touching someone for the upper caste. Because even if the Government makes laws & amendments, they cannot catch hold of monsters living inside the roots of India. Anyways, now that Phagunia is also very much in Love with her husband, they elope from her second marriage to start a family. The first trouble in paradise comes when the Panchayat’s son Ruab (Pankaj Tripathi) tries to molest Phagunia and Dasrath beats the shit out of him. This makes Phagunia angry about the fact that if Dasrath had trusted her Love he would have known that she could defend herself. Dasrath tries to vow her by gifting her a soft pillow! Yes, this is an item of luxury for a common poor village family. Still can’t relate to their struggle, can we? Phagunia announces her pregnancy & Dasrath’s love only grows for her as she was completing their family. And she gives birth to the child in a river with the help of local women. Another common problem, unhygienic yet natural births in villages responsible for high mortality rates.
Phagunia is pregnant with their second child when she has to climb the mountain to fetch water for her home in the drying up village. While doing so, she slips her leg and falls off the mountain. Dasrath runs to her rescue along with a mate only to carry his wounded wife to the hospital climbing the same mountain she fell from to reach a hospital in Wazirgunj. He loses his wife to the mountain who leaves behind a daughter as beautiful as her. This is when Dasrath decides to take his revenge, rather do something as monumental as Shah Jahan’s Taj Mahal in the memory of his loving life partner. He decides to cut down the mountain!
‘Mad Man, ‘Stupid Mountain Cutter‘, ‘Hopeless Freak‘ what not he gets called by the villagers & his won father. But there’s no stopping him now from murdering the mountain down for snatching away his only reason to live, Phagunia – his Dream girl! The village starts to dry up completely & everyone starts moving out including his family but he refuses to leave Gehlor until he chops of the mountain to make a path. Infact, he even inspires a struggling journalist who’s sickened of working for a presstitute-ish newspaper which is manipulated by the politicians to open up his own news agency by saying, “I’m sure it wouldn’t be as hard as breaking down a Mountain’.
Hoping to make things better he visits a rally by Congress party happening in a near by town to ‘beg’ the Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, to built a road in his village so that nobody loses their lives like his wife did. He ends up saving Indira Gandhi’s rally by holding the broken stage along with other strong men & only gets a picture killed with her. He gets noticed by politicians & now a Panchayat head himself, Ruab tries to lure Dasrath in his fake plan of getting a sanction of 25 lakh rupees for building the road from the Government. He later uses the money for his personal business & carrying out his stone mafia activities. Dasrath with the help of the journalist he once inspired, goes to the government’s office to claim his money for the road building scheme, when he comes to know that Ruab has used it entirely for personal use. He is advised by Ruab to go to the Parliament in Delhi & make a complaint. Manjhi becomes so poor that he couldn’t even afford a train’s ticket and decides to cover the journey from Bihar to Delhi on his feet using rail tracks as his GPS. Because breaking down a humongous mountain wasn’t enough to become a Legend! On his way he finds various troubled common men who get beaten up by the so-called protectors aka police men for conducting various protests for their rights. Unknowingly, out of poverty & no clothes he wraps around a piece if cloth with the slogan of ‘Join Me if you wants to be heard in Delhi’. These struggling men spot the message & join Dasrath on his way to Delhi. Upon reaching the Parliament, goon-y beat up everyone & send them back. Heart broken Dasrath returns to Gehlor & gives up all his hopes of building a road for his village. He is reminded of his dream of breaking down the mountain by his imaginary mind in the form of his wife who says I though you were going to build me something as memorable as Taj Mahal, go on & build it for me. He remembers his motivation to keep on going despite having faced situations where he had to cut off his toe after being bit by a cobra on it or almost dying with thirst due to lack of water.
Next day he returns to completing what he set out to do years ago, and finds other villagers helping him out in fulfilling his mission but Ruab brings a hurdle to this by sending Dasrath Manjhi to jail with the help of the corrupt Forest Department claiming to own the land on which the mountain stands & naming Manjhi as the stone mafia. However he’s released when his co-villagers & fans protest outside the police station forcing the cops to release him.
Interestingly a sub constable remarks, “When a Lawful complaint is written against your name, even God gives up hope of it being written off”. Which simply means you raise your voice against the doings’ of the Government & you can continue to a life in Hell.
We also get to see a side of what the dominant politicians & majorly government do to people wanting to live a life with their basic rights, the rejection & struggle turns them into Naxals because injustice becomes out of control. Though, Dasrath tries to stop the hanging of the ex-Panchayat head in a Naxal acitivity. Policemen attack the Naxals & many innocent villagers lose their lives, which is very relatable to any terrorist or protest based activity that takes place even today.
Finally, Dasrath manages to break open the barrier of troubles,i.e; a path through the mountain standing between the resource less Gehlor & the resourceful Wazirgunj. However, sadly it was only many years later that the Government honoured his hard work & commitment by building a tar road naming it ‘Dasrath Manjhi path’!
A number of people even today are losing their lives just to provide basic necessities for their families, forget the pain to get their rights. While our politicians are busy making huge statues, gold temples, skyscrapers & what not. Shanghai can only be possible when, small villages develop. They are the future of our Nation. Give them & everyone gets!
Manjhi has a strong first half which establishes the characters, social issues & the struggle of Dasrath perfectly. The film motivates you & intrigues about how a man can just have a thought to do something impossible & try everyday to work towards it with all honesty & accomplish it even if it takes away a major part of his life. Ketan Mehta is a genius & Manjhi only adds a golden feather to his cap of Direction. To make the audience grabbed to their seats watching the biopic of an uninteresting man when today mainstream Bollywood is all about dance numbers & senseless comedy, is a pure talent. I don’t know the genuine story of Manjhi but the film makes you believe whatever you’ve watch must have been what exactly would have happened.
The first half of the second half slopes towards a downfall when Manjhi has his personal struggles while cutting down the mountain for a short while but the pre climax & climax scenes bring the movie back on the track.
NAWAZUDDIN SIDDIQUI is truly a Gem that stands out with his unique identity. His evil laughter from ‘Kick’ continues in Manjhi when Dasrath challenges the mountain & the people around him and it makes you fall in Love with him even more. From a romantic husband to a mad old man, the transition is so believable & no momentum is lost. Radhika Apte is a treat to the eyes not only for her natural beauty but her acting prowess. She keeps you captivated like you’re Dasrath Manjhi. And you start believing in the proverb, “There’s always a Woman behind a successful man”. The chemistry between the two is phenomenal.
Cinematography, screenplay, dialogues, the background score and editing are almost perfect! For this beautiful love story of it’s own kind, I go with 4 out of 5 stars & recommend everyone to witness it just to be inspired to do thingsyou always wanted to do but were stopped by the society at any point, for either someone or yourself. Grab a hammer & nail your Dreams, break what comes in your way!!!