Caught in the push and pull of artistic desires and populist demands. 'Manjhi - The Mountain Man' is a performance in search of a film.
Ketan Mehta’s on screen biopic on the extraordinary super powers of Dashrath Manjhi – a coal mine labour from Gaya district in Bihar who for 22 years with just a hammer and a chisel broke a 25ft high hill for love making way for humanity, love and persistence, is a mediocre headed biopic that is unnecessarily and unevenly buffed with potboiler pigeons in this baffled narration that swings from being realistic to filmy at will.
Unlikely to please the populist demands fulfilled by Viacom’s previous biopic’s like Bhaag Milkha Bhaag’, ‘Mary Kom’ and sadly ‘comfortably’ failing to appeal to the ‘simplistic’ ‘realistic’ and artistic’ standards set by biopic’s like Jabbar Patel’s ‘Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, Ketan Mehta’s own ‘Sardar’ , Shekhar Kapur’s ‘Bandit Queen’..
Anyhow ‘Manjhi - The Mountain Man’ is a wonderful exhibition of Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s super acting powers.
This ‘Hum Paanch’ of a team - screen writers (Jakhar Mahendar, Ketan Mehta), script consultant (Rajbali Anjum), Varadraj Swami (research and dialogue) and a dialogue consultant also in Shaiwal make sure that the adage of too many cooks spoil the dish come true. The real ‘shakuni mamas’ of turning this potentially inspiring, moving, uplifting biopic into a simple bollywood story of a victory of an underdog.
Opening with an over dramatic scene of Dashrath Manjhi (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) challenging a 25ft high rocky mountain in a small village called Gehlaur near Gaya, Bihar. The mountain is responsible for the death of his beloved Phaguniya Devi (Radhika Apte). Manjhi decides to carve a road through it. Facing accusations of being a lunatic and challenged by sun, heat, rain, landlords (Tigmanshu, Pankaj), government officials etc.. and supported by a journalist (Gaurav Dwivedi) to finally come triumph after a 22 years of heroic struggle.
What could have being a stark realization of India’s inequality, negligence, poverty after independence is somewhere lost in its attempt to say many things at one time.. The movie underscores the heroic super power achievements of Manjhi with overdramatic scenes like the cutting of toe after being beaten by a snake and being thrown out of train for travelling without a ticket. (We don,t know whether this incidents are true, even if they are true its tackily handled).
The ‘filmy’ approach to a ‘realistic’ setting doesn’t gel. The love story between Manjhi and Phaguniya isn’t realistic. Unnecessary elements like the ‘Naxalite’ angle are added that doesn’t do any good.
Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s flawless, immaculate pitch perfect performance is the most charming feature of this biopic. From a lover, to a man and finally a legend, Nawazuddin is in compete command delivering the right nuances of method acting rarely seen that makes the audience sit through this flawed biopic.
Radhika chips in with valuable support. Tigmanshu (landlord), Pankaj (landlord’s son), Prashanth Narayan (naxalite) , Alok (journalist) chip in with valuable support. Late Ashraf Ul Haque as Dashrath’s father is fantastic. Other technicalities are okay. Deepa Mehta as Indira Gandhi impresses.
Conclusion: All said and done Manjhi - The Mountain Man is a promised on screen motivator coming undone by a baffled ‘Mirch Masala’ execution. We expected more from Ketan Mehta who gave us ‘Oh Darling Yeh Hai India’, ‘Rang Rasiya’, Sardar’ and ‘Mirch Masala’. Still can be watched for Nawaj’s acting heroics as Dashrath Manjhi - the man who broke a mountain for love.
Rating: 4.0 / 5.0
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