Imagine, a lone man in a remote village of Bihar trying to dig a road through a massive rocky mountain with his bare handsâ€¦A daunting demented and disturbing ideaâ€¦yes. Partly passionate, infuriatingly impractical and altogether crazy.
But then that’s Ketan Mehta for you. When has he ever though like a conformist? 28 years ago Mehta made the monumental Mirch Masala. If the colour red dominated that film’s visual palate it is the fading grey of mountain rocks that fill the frames of Mehta’s new film.
Mehta, as we know through his work loves to move mountains. Coincidentally so did Dashrath Manjhi the unsung hero of village Gehlore in Gaya whose wife died due to medical negligence. Manjhi decides to cure the malady of inaccessibility that his village suffers from, with just a hammer and a chisel
The way Mehta tells Manjhi’s story is both inspirational and fantastical. As the character of the stubborn mountain breaker grows older he begins to seem more and more deluded in his belief that faith can move mountain. Maybe it can. On the other hand, maybe it can’t.
The beauty of watching this monumental film is that it never strives to provide the audience with the numbing certainties that are automatically affiliated to bio-pics.
Being an unsung hero helps. The facts pertaining to Manjhi’s insane endeavour to humble an arrogant mountain for 22 years are not that well-known to the audiences.
This could easily have been a dry documentation of one man’s junoonâ€¦single-minded and monotonous. Instead Mehta turns it into a heartrending love story. Manjhi’s love for his dead wife (Radhika Apte, beautifully occupying her space in the parable of man and his obsession with a mountain) cuts across the narrative’s horizon, in passionate colours that stream through the lives of the impoverished characters like a stubborn light beaming through a broken window.
Manjhi: The Mountain Man is not only a film with a sturdy unshakable heart. It is also a film that refuses to let go of its protagonist’s heroism even after it seems to have exhausted itself out.
Not the least of the film’s achievements is its central performance. This is Nawazuddin Siddiqui‘s most accomplished performance to date. He owns Manjhi’s characters just as Manjhi owns the mountain that he wants to embrace and subjugate.
The actor’s eyes twinkle with mischievous ardour and burn with a passionate fury. He is no Shah Jehan. But the film is quite a Taj Mahal. If Manjhi moved a mountain this film has the power to do the same.
Words of praise seem hollow when it comes to a film that describes a life so inspirational.
Shall we just repeat Manjhi’s words whenever he is asked how he is?
“Sundar zabardast zindabad!”
Amen to that.