Manjhi: The ‘Mountain Man’ and his Momentous Journey

A young man sincere in love, a bereaved husband faithful in his yearnings, and a determined soul up against a mountain: this is Dasarath Manjhi for you. From a freewheeling individual who gives himself to the pursuit of love to a resolute ‘mountain man’ who hammers a hillock, Manjhi’s life is a story of persistence.  Director Ketan Mehta’s foremost achievement has to be the idea of casting Nawazuddin Siddiqui as Manjhi. The actor, who is known for going deep into the skin of a character, has outdone himself, once again.

The film is rich in symbolism. While the hillock stood for everything that’s thought to be insurmountable, the poor and lonely Manjhi was the epitome of determination. It’s only he who has the temerity to think that the mountain’s might is just a misconception.

‘Manjhi’ is quite a departure from the contemporary school of thought. Pathos is not exaggerated, the script is not guilty of verbosity, and the screenplay has trodden off the beaten track. While Radhika Aapte looked sensual and sensible as Phaguniya (Dasarath’s wife); Tigmanshu Dhulia seems to have grown even more wicked and detestable since Gangs of Wasseypur.

From the sepia scenes of lovemaking to blue starlit nights and fiery drought-stricken landscapes to a monotonous brown hillock, the cinematographer was given a free run when it comes to balancing desire and despair.  And yes, it does take a brave heart (and a great deal of editing skills) to compress such a long struggle into two hours of cinematic experience.

Music composer Sandesh Shandilya has tried his best to keep the folk flavour of the songs intact. If I am not wrong, the background music did have a generous contribution from sarod, sarangi, ektar and other not-very-frequently-heard instruments.  The song ‘O Rahi’ might remind you of “Aaoge jab tum oh sajna” from the film “Jab We Met”.

The social commentary in the film makes Dasarath’s struggle look even more real, even more unnerving.  While casteism, corruption, and the undercurrent of political inertia during the Indira Gandhi regime actually played out as a Goliath of trouble, the plight of the oppressed looked very real.

I don’t know whether faith can move mountain, but doggedness can surely help you carve a path through a hillock. 21st century audience may not have any inkling of what love consumed the creator of the Taj Mahal, but they can say this with certainty that Dasarath’s love for Phaguniya deserves to be narrated over years and handed down to generations as oral traditions.

This film will remain in our collective memory as a reminder that there’s much power in passion. So, even if you have to walk alone, even if your altruism is misinterpreted, and your sanity is being questioned, don’t wilt and wait for the God’s grace “kyunki kya pata bhagwan hamare bharose baitha ho”.

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