Free Press Journal

Movie Review: ‘Manji’ – The Mountain Man – A flamboyant, elevating Experience!

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Cast: Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Radhika Apte, Haider, Tigmanshu Dhulia, Pankaj Tripathi, Prashanth Narayanan, Deepa Sahi, Gaurav Dwivedi

Director: Ketan Mehta

Rating: * * * ½


Runtime:120 mins

‘Manji The Mountain Man’ is a sinewy herculean effort from the director that gave us classics like ‘Bhavni Bhavai, Mirch Masala, Holi’ and to a much lesser extent ‘ Maya Memsaab and Rang Rasiya. ’ Ketan Mehta after his most proficient phase as filmmaker had gotten into a creative slump of sorts with ‘ O Darling yeh hai India, Aar Paar, Mangal Pandey, Sardar’and the likes. And for his ardent fans and well wishers it was truly a trying wait- hoping that the brilliant director would soon get back into groove. And the wait has been well worth it I guess. ‘Manji The Mountain Man’ makes up for all those misses of the past few years.

It’s a flamboyantly rendered tale of a man who single-handedly persevered through  extreme heat and drought, surviving on leaves and insects while carving a path through what appeared to be quite an impregnable mountain.

Dashrath Manjhi (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) was a poor man from the lowest of the low castes, living in a remote village cut off from the necessities of life by a rocky mountain range. Life was an everyday struggle for survival what with the local zamindar (Tigmanshu Dhulia) and his son (Pankaj Tripathi) heaping atrocities on him and his community and the Govt turning a deaf ear to their sorry plight. He and  his wife, Phaguniya (Radhika Apte) struggled to make ends meet but they were always upbeat about their love for each other sustaining them through their many miseries. Unfortunately fate intervened and a heavily pregnant Phaguniya, while climbing the mountain to bring him food, lost purchase on the mountain top and fell to her death. A grief stricken Dashrath, egged on by his anger, decided to tame the humongous object that snuffed out his hope for life-long happiness. And for  22 years, all by himself, with just a hammer and a chisel, he hammered away at the rocks, braving every scourge that nature threw his way and some that humans did too,  till a path was carved out from the mountain.

Thankfully an irrepressible Ketan Mehta takes-off in flamboyant fashion, mixing art and commerce in equal measure to carve out a vibrant, enlivening narrative that is fortified by an interestingly fleshed out script. The socio-political milieu , the caste and class politics of those times, oppression, personal tragedy, natural calamities, apathy, ridicule, corruption, subterfuge, and even  snakebite are brought out stingingly leaving you reverberating with the pain and agony experienced by the victims.  Mehta’s style, while staying true to the story manages to add color and pungency to the experience. The  exciting cinematography and effects, a hauntingly brilliant and elevating orchestral score by Sandesh Shandilya, sharply honed larger-than-life performances and thrusting dramatic surges with memorable dialogues by Mohinder Pratap Singh and Shahzab Ahmed keep at bay what could have well been the unrelieved monotony of a man chipping away at a mountain for 22 long years.

Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Radhika Apte,Pankaj Tripathi, Prashant Narayanan and all the other actors in this ensemble make a telling impact with their performances. A special mention also needs to be made for a distinctive and near note perfect cameo by Deepa Sahi as Indira Gandhi.  Ketan Mehta makes this effort count with gritty temper and extravagant flourishes creating a marriage of distaff elements in a work that is singularly noteworthy and strongly affecting. And yeah, he has got back his groove.

This is definitely a far superior and exciting work than any we’ve seen in a long while. Like Manji says this one is definitely ‘Shaandaar, Zabardast, Zindabad!’