Dashrath Manjhi, the man and inspiration behind this week’s Nawazuddin Siddiqui vehicle ‘Manjhi: The Mountain Man’ had an extraordinary life. A poor labourer in Bihar, Manjhi with his steely resolve literally carved up mountains, and reduced the distance between his native village and the nearest town of Wazirganj by over two-thirds the margin.
Recommended for a Padma Shree in 2007, this man had a superhuman feat to his name and his work, brought his village and its people closer to better medical facilities.
And yet, as rousing and inspiring as that sounds, the story sadly never translates to be so on the big screen.
Manjhi: The Mountain Man tells the story of Dashrath Manjhi, an often gregarious man who comes from working in Dhanbad coal mines to find little has changed in the village of his birth. He falls in love, and elopes with Phaguniya, portrayed by the always watchable Radhika Apte.
However, tragedy strikes the carefree life of this young couple as she falls to her death, treading a mountain pass while fetching some water. What follows is Dashrath’s vow to make sure she’ll be the last one to meet this fate as he works tirelessly, hammer and chisel in hand, to make a clear and short path for the rest of his village.
WOOS: I don’t blame anyone who places their smart money on a movie starring Nawazuddin Siddiqui, in a starring or supporting role. Siddiqui helms this project and in terms of effort and commitment, he nails it.
As a member of the audience, you feel for him when a severely dehydrated and famished Manjhi chews up mountain plants, you turn to look away as Manjhi does something straight out of 127 hours and most importantly, you stand by him as he relentlessly works away at the mountain, even as he is called a madman by all.
Siddiqui is easily the best part of this film, making his character likeable, if not always engaging.
Secondly, there are glimpses of much power in this otherwise plodding film. The scene where Manjhi returns to his village after 7 long years to meet the elders is funny and yet, incredibly potent in its message. Alas, these are too few and far between.
MEHS: Ketan Mehta, the man in the Director’s chair. Personally, I have never really liked Ketan Mehta’s recent forays into mainstream cinema. Rang Rasiya and Aamir Khan-starring Mangal Pandey, were simply forgettable. Sadly, this is too.
Director Ketan Mehta takes a story of genuine potency, and turns it into a bloated, overstuffed, melodramatic piece that looks straight out of 80’s Bollywood. Replete with unnecessary clichés and puzzling storylines (Like Manjhi’s Forrest Gump-like walk to Delhi), Mehta creates a film that is not only plodding and repetitive, but is also often unintentionally laughable and cringe-worthy (Dashrath meeting Mrs Indira Gandhi is definitely one of them).
In fact, the burden of the mess is so heavy that often, behind the gluestick-ed beard you can see Siddiqui trying his best to make sense of it. It is to the credit of the director that Manjhi never soars to be a character as nuanced as Dhulia’s terrific Paan Singh Tomar.
Secondly, for a film said to be about a man moving mountains, the film is shockingly and poorly shot. You never see the earthen and often, surreal beauty the mountains and the villages are supposed to represent. Instead, the audience is greeted to a clutter of CGI and dream sequences that look strangely psychedelic.
I don’t think anyone pays the price of their ticket to see a burning hut that clearly looks like it has been created on set.
The acting beyond Siddiqui is strictly serviceable, which is a shame because of the immense talent on board. Tigmanshu Dhulia, Radhika Apte and Pankaj Tripathi, all wasted in thankless roles.
VERDICT: I really wanted to like this film, I really did. But, Manjhi: The Mountain Man is neither as engaging, inspiring and memorable as it should be, nor as serviceable so as to garner many viewings. Frank Capra once said, ‘There are no rules in filmmaking. Only sins. And the cardinal sin is dullness.’
Manjhi, the film falls prey to this very rule. It is irresponsible filmmaking at its most irresponsible, and a film perhaps as exhausting, as the work of its tireless protagonist.
I give it a generous 2/5.