Film: Manjhi - The Mountain Man
Cast: Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Radhika Apte, Tigmanshu Dhulia, Gaurav Dwivedi
Director: Ketan Mehta
He is Farhad, cutting through a taciturn mountain with clenched tenacity. And Forrest Gump fuelled by an impossible to bear grief, traversing long distances like a messiah and being followed by agenda seekers.
Or Gandhi who will be the change he wants to see in the world. And Aron Ralston, trapped between a rock and a hard place, only not literally. But ready to hack off a part of his body, if primal survival calls for it.
He is the poorest of the poor, lending his shoulder to keep political podiums steady so that leaders can make hollow promises (in this case, a robotic Indira Gandhi played by Deepa Sahi with a prosthetic nose). A labourer branded by casteism who watches a friend burn to death in a brick kiln because the supervisor won't let them put out the fire.
The helpless bystander who watches his friend lose his wife to the lust and vindictiveness of the landlords.
The man who carries his bleeding wife to a hospital in a makeshift carrier hung from bamboos and finally reaches a point where he can no longer let things happen to him.
Where he has to eyeball the mountain and say, "jab tak todunga nahin..tab tak chodunga nahin (Till I break you, I won't let go). That we waited till he died to celebrate Dashrath Manjhi shows just how oblivious we are as a nation to heroes who do not answer to our yardstick of success.
He was not a cricketer or a star flashing the box-office clout of a few crores or a rags to riches story. He was just a villager who one day decided he would carve a road through a mountain with just a hammer and chisel. And so he did.
Even though, it took him 22 years to do so. This story itself should have moved mountains but all it resulted in was a metalled road in 2011, four years after he had passed away and this film, which attempts to shock us into an awareness of the India we are oblivious to, and succeeds occasionally, will possibly do more for the makers than for the surviving son of the Mountain Man.
Manjhi's daughter died tragically too, without much medical help, even after Satyamev Jayate's special coverage on her father and promises of help. There are reports that the rights to make the film were acquired during Dashrath's last days and a certain haste also shows in the way the film is made.
Ketan Mehta once known for strikingly nuanced films like Mirch Masala seems to have invested no time in a credible screenplay and from the time we see Nawazuddin Siddiqui clad in a yellow shirt, bouncing back into his village after a lifetime away, a Raj Kapoor song playing in the background, we know, cliches will be employed liberally and they are.
So we have the painstakingly made up Radhika Apte, the constant close-ups of her bare shoulders and a repetitive Taj Mahal reference to drive home the adage of deathless love. Their is the playful lust on loop and a sequence reminiscent of Baahubali where the beloved glides across a waterfall, her saree undulating like mist, beckoning the lover to take a leap of faith.
But yes, there are moments that punch you in the gut and are hard to watch. Apte's Phagunia gasping for life. The extreme thirst that drives Manjhi to lick the vegetation in a dry well.
The scene where he walks to Delhi with a plastic bag protecting his head and a stray political banner wrapped around his frail body.
Siddiqui is brilliant in scenes where he converses with the mountain, deals with extreme pain and isolation and finds something within that does not let him give up. He is a hungry actor but he was not given enough time possibly to nuance the happier times where he was just an ordinary man, constantly badgering his woman for sex.
There is also Tigmasnhu Dhulia half-heartedly playing a baddie and the brilliant Ashraful Haque who passed away recently, as Dashrath's cantankerous father.
The story of Dashrath Manjhi must not be forgotten but let us please also ensure that the cinema that milks the lives of our unsung heroes, also gives something back to the milieu it takes its box office heft from.
And that those who were exploited in life are not exploited in death also.