Shyam Benegal’s 'Manthan' Returns To Theatres On World Milk Day

Shyam Benegal’s 'Manthan' Returns To Theatres On World Milk Day

Jayen Mehta, MD, GCMMF (Amul), talks about the cult classic, which was screened at the Cannes Film Festival recently

Roshmila BhattacharyaUpdated: Sunday, May 19, 2024, 11:37 AM IST
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A still from Manthan |

On May 17, a restored print of Shyam Benegal’s Manthan: The Churning was screened in the ‘Classics’ section of the ongoing 77th Cannes Film Festival. A fictionalised narrative based on true events, the 1976 cult classic traces the journey of Girish Karnad’s character, Dr Rao, inspired by then chief of the National Dairy Development Board, Dr Verghese Kurien, who, in 1946, was instrumental in setting up the Anand Milk Union Limited, now world-famous as Amul. 

Dr. Kurien, fondly known as ‘India’s Milkman’, and the man behind the economic empowerment of farmers across the country, was honoured with the Padma Vibhushan, the Ramon Magsaysay Award and the World Food Prize. He was also conferred the Order of Agricultural Merit by the French Government in 1997. He passed away on September 9, 2012, at the age of 90, but his mission continues.

Jayen Mehta

Jayen Mehta |

This year, on February 22, Preeti Sagar sang the Vanraj Bhatia composition Mero gaon katha parey, the lone song from the film, at the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad in the presence of Prime Minister Modi and a full house, as part of the golden jubilee celebrations of the Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation Limited (GCMMF).

GCMMF joined hands with the National Film Development Corporation (NFDC) and the Film Heritage Foundation (FHF) six months ago to flag off Manthan’s restoration process with the support of post-production studio, Prasad Film Labs in Chennai, and L’Immagine Ritrovata, a film restoration laboratory in Bologna, Italy. Following its Cannes unveiling, the film, shot in 16 mm, will return to the theatres.

“We are planning a wide theatrical re-release of Manthan across India’s top 30 cities on June 1, which is celebrated as World Milk Day,” informs Jayen Mehta, MD, GCMMF (Amul).

Jayen Mehta, MD GCMMF Amul), Naseeruddin Shah, Shivendra Singh Dungarpur, Prateik Babbar

Jayen Mehta, MD GCMMF Amul), Naseeruddin Shah, Shivendra Singh Dungarpur, Prateik Babbar |

Set up in 1973, GCMMF, triggered what is known as the ‘White Revolution’, a grassroot movement which transformed India from a milk-deficient nation to the largest producer of milk in the world. GCMMF was started with half a million farmers who contributed Rs 2 each to crowd-fund the film which cost Rs 10 lakh, a modest budget today, but a princely sum in the ’70s. Mehta, who watched Manthan in 1989, as part of his induction process at the Institute of Rural Management Anand (IRMA), describes it as a “riveting experience”. He adds that since then, not just in Amul, but at any dairy cooperative anywhere in India, it has become the go-to film for new entrants and even visitors.

The social drama bagged the National Award for Best Feature Film in Hindi. Vijay Tendulkar also won the National Award for Best Screenplay. Manthan was India’s official entry to the Academy Awards for Best Film in a Foreign Language in 1976. Also starring Smita Patil, Naseeruddin Shah and Kulbhushan Kharbanda, it brings to the screen the genesis of India’s evolution into a global dairy powerhouse with a cooperative movement spread across 2 lakh villages and milk federations like Amul in every state.

“Today, milk, with a shelf life of just 3-4 hours, is our largest agricultural produce, the value of its output more than wheat, paddy and oil seeds put together. It provides nutrition to 1.5 billion people and livelihood to more than 10 crore families, including a large number of farmers, mostly women,” informs Mehta.

In 2020, the Ministry of Cooperation was set up with the government at the Centre recognising cooperatives as a tool for development. “Another 2 lakh cooperatives are in the process of being set up in the balance 5 lakh villages across the country,” says Mehta. “Even Amul, along with making its brand global, has also endeavored to make its model global through joint ventures with Sri Lanka aimed at making its dairy industry self-sufficient. We are also working with Kenya and other developing countries for the upliftment of their farmers.”

So, is another film in the pipeline to take forward Dr. Kurien’s vision and legacy? “That would be wonderful, but for that you need a director like Shyam Benegal, a team of able technicians, and passionate actors who when faced with water scarcity, wore the same clothes for 45 days,” smiles Mehta.

Mehta was on the red carpet at the Cannes screening, along with Naseeruddin Shah, representatives of an ailing Benegal and the late Smita Patil’s family.

With the United Nations declaring 2025 as the International Year of Cooperatives, Mehta acknowledges that it is the perfect time for Manthan to get global recognition and a re-release after almost half-a-century. “We are on the cusp of a White Revolution 2.0 and the story continues to be relevant and empowering, both socially and economically,” he concludes.

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