High and Dry
Film: Manjhi – The Mountain Man
Cast: Nawazuddin Siddique, Radhika Apte, Pankaj Tripathi
Directed by: Ketan Mehta
Duration: 2 hrs
Rating: * *
The main takeaway from Manjhi – The Mountain Man is that great stories don’t necessarily make great films. Or not even good films for that matter. In this case, it is the astounding true story and Nawazuddin Siddique’s acting that elevates a worn out film and makes it look average.
Directed by Ketan Mehta who gave us memorable films like Bhavni Bhavai and Mirch Masala the screenplay looks completed jaded and straight from the 70’s and 80’s. The director who was at his best in those films (and that was a long time ago, 1980 and ’87 respectively) understood the social ills and knew how to show case them. Circa 2015, and he looks a little out of his depth when it comes to evoking sympathy from the way the marginalized low caste people were and to a large extent still are treated.
The story is set in the mid 1950’s in Bihar where a young Dashrath (Nawazuddin) runs away from the clutches of a zamindar (Tigmanshu Dhulia reprising a Gangs of Wasseypur kind of role). The young man belongs to the Musahar caste and they treated like dirt. Seven years later when he returns, although there are laws against untouchability, nothing has changed in his village.
After a very filmi romance with a village belle (Radhika Apte) with whom he was married off as a kid, Dashrath’s life begins to settle down but the social discrimination continues. The script fails to muster up any engaging scenes till this point.
It is only when the protagonist determines that is singlehandedly going to bring a mountain down because of the death of his beloved that some life is breathed in. With a hammer in hand he started breaking the stones, it took him more than two decades to finish what he started and breaking the stones was not his only ordeal. The zamindar’s son (the ever reliable Pankaj Tripathi) throws a spanner in the works prompting the ageing man to walk all the way to Delhi to meet the Prime Minister. The scene where he pushed out of the moving train is a perfect example of what has gone wrong with the writing and the direction. Or the other dramatic one where a Indira Gandhi lookalike is giving her garibi hatao speech and part of the stage collapses prompting the men around to actually stand and support it while the speech continues. Melodrama, if at all, has to be in the right measure but our film makers very rarely get that right, especially when dealing with real life stories. And otherwise too.
Nawazuddin Siddique is the saving grace, he effortlessly slips into the role and from the playful young man t a burdened and ageing he hits all the right notes. Radhika Apte is saddled with a role that doesn’t have much potential but she makes the best of it.
Certainly not what Manjhi encountered but this is also a tall mountain to climb.
Published in The Navhind Times on 23rd Aug 2015