I was at my local library looking for another film (Dookudu!), when I happened to see that Manjhi: The Mountain Man was in the new release DVD section. Our local movie theater had shown trailers for Manjhi for months, but it never came to the big screen in our town.
I absolutely love the acting of Nawazuddin Siddiqui. He is consistently amazing in every movie I’ve seen him in. Like Irrfan Khan, I’d bet he could make reading the phonebook a dramatic triumph. Since half the movie has Nawaz acting only with himself and railing at his mountain, you need someone of Nawaz’s talents to pull it off.
Manjhi is based on the real life story of Dashrath Manjhi, who really did carve a road through a mountain with just a hammer and a chisel. Dashrath’s wife had died from a fall, and died because it took so long to get her to medical care. After her death Dashrath Manjki vowed to make a road through the mountain to allow for faster medical access for his remote village. He worked at it for twenty-two years. It sounds like a story that is so fantastical that it couldn’t even be real, but it is.
My favorite part of the movie was the first half which has the romantic story of Dashrath and his wife Phalguni (Radhika Apte). Dashrath was born in a caste so low that they were the rat-eaters of the village. There is a tyranical zamindar and his evil son who rule the village with an iron fist. Dashrath runs away from home to escape being forced into lifelong bondage to the zamindar. He returns to the village after some years working in the coal mines.
He falls in love with a village girl, and realizes that she was actually his child bride. I just loved Nawaz and Radhika Apte and their scenes together. Life is hard. The Zamindar and his son are barbaric to the low caste villagers. But Dhashrath and his wife carve out happiness together.
Tragedy strikes when a pregnant Phalguni falls from the mountain while pregnant with their second child. Dhashrath carries her miles and miles to the closest hospital, but it isn’t soon enough to save her. He is left with two children to raise alone, and at this point he goes a bit mad. He vows to the mountain that he will break it.
The second half of the the film shows his struggles chipping away at the mountain all those years. The filmmaker tries to insert some drama here, and it gets a bit metaphysical with visions of his wife talking to him, and soliloquy’s with the mountain. Nawaz tries his best, but the script is not as good here.
Nawaz does not make Dhashrath a saint. This is a man so obsessed that he leaves his children in the care of his drunk father to work on his mountain path.
The film is definitely worth seeing just for Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s performance. Seeing him romance Radhika Apte in the first half of the film makes me anticipate the romantic comedy he’s filming right now even more.
Manjhi: The Mountain Man was not quite as great as I’d hoped it would be, but I give it four stars out of five.