The Wikipedia page of Dashrath Manjhi reads that he was a poor laborer in Gehlaur village, near Gaya in Bihar who carved a path through a mountain using only a hammer and chisel. After 22 years of work, Dashrath shortened travel between the Atri and Wazirganj blocks of Gaya town from 55 km to 15 kms. What this page doesn’t read is the reason that made a common man undertake such a herculean task that too without any help or support from anyone. Ketan Mehta’s Manjhi: The Mountain Man throws light on the love that made a hero out of a common man. It also documents the insurmountable odds that Manjhi faced on his way to conquering the humongous foe that according to him took his wife away from him.
Dashrath Manjhi (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) returns to his village after 7 years. He had run off saving himself from falling into the hands of the evil landlord who also owned his father. Upon his arrival he meet his wife Phaguniya (Radhika Apte) to whom he was married off as a kid. Phaguniya’s father doesn’t want his daughter to go with Dashrath and after much deliberation, Dashrath is able to elope with Phaguniya. Having a tough life as it is, he still finds love, peace and solace in Phaguniya and their marital bliss. Manjhi soon becomes a father and requests his wife for a daughter. He makes plans to shift to a city and educate his children so that they could become respected citizen.
But fate has other plans. While making her way through the treacherous mountain. Phaguniya meets with a severe accident. As going around the mountain takes hours, Manjhi rushes her to the hospital through the ravines but the formidable trek takes time longer than what Phaguniya could endure and she dies. Manjhi’s life comes crashing down. He realizes that as long as the Mountain stands tall, there will be innumerable such cases wherein men and women will succumb to the lack of amenities. Thus he takes it upon himself to tear down the mountain. Over the next 22 years, he singlehandedly breaks a way through the mountain. He challenges not only the infallible pride of the mountain but also finds in it a shadow of the landlords and the tricky divisions of the society which caused him and others nothing but pain and suffering.
Ketan Mehta is able to hit the right notes with this film. While Nawazuddin Siddiqui is able to effortlessly slip into the skin of the mountain man, Mehta’s deft touches in the sequences makes this film a heartwarming affair. Just before he begins breaking down the mountain, Manjhi looks to the sky and says, “tohre Liye” [for you]. This dialog summarizes the gamut of feelings that the man must be going through before taking on the might of the nature. During the course of the next 22 years, he will have to face ridicule, insult, draught, hunger, snake bites and treachery of his fellow beings not to mention the difficulties that come with breaking down a mountain using nothing more than a hammer and a chisel.
It is very easy to accept Nawazuddin as the mountain man. There is such a simplicity in his essay that it is bound to find a taker with one and all. His expressions are apt for every sequence and he doesn’t go overboard in scenes that even the best have an urge to go overboard in. His chemistry with Radhika Apte is electrifying. The dream sequences specially work wonders as in those brief spates, the film comes out of its harsh and uncompromising core. There tender romance shows what propelled Manjhi’s insatiable desire to bring down the mountain and pave the way for the villagers ensuring no one else meets the plight that he had to face.
The film touches many issues like casteism, untouchability, politics etc which the director masterfully weaves in his narrative in a manner which is not at all preachy and yet is effective. You take back the scenes with you and that in turns ensures that you remember the lessons that you learned from them. By the time the film ends, Manjhi conquers the mountain and our hearts as well. As he rightly puts forth in one of his dialogs when he says “hume bhagwan ke bharose baitha nai rehna chahiye. Kya pata wo hamare bharose baitha ho?”[We shouldn’t wait for god to solve our problems. Who knows may be he is looking upon us to solve his?], Manjhi is about conquering the things that seem unconquerable. After two hours of crawling through some of the most gruesome of situations, Manjhi ends with a resounding laughter from Manjhi himself on his own dialog. It is a film which will leave you with a good taste in the mouth and even though it is not one of those polished and masala laden cliché outings, it is entertaining enough to deserve multiple views. I will be watching this again.