Re-Reading ‘Manjhi-The Mountain Man’

Already in the political limelight even before its formal release, Manjhi is set to make a big success at box office. Manjhi -The Mountain Man is actually a biography that is based on the life of India’s Mountain man, Dashrath Manjhi who was a poor man (labourer) from Gehlaur village of Gaya, Bihar. Dashrat carved a path through a huge mountain for twenty two years as a token of love to his deceased wife, who died after slipping from the same mountain and couldn’t reach the far off hospital on time. Ketan Mehta’ the ‘Maya Memsa’ab’ and ‘Mirch Masala’ fame has aptly chosen the right person for the role of “Manjhi-The Mountain Man”. The movie not only traces the life and struggle of the mountain man of India but presents a beautiful picturesque of a classic Bihari context, lexicon along with the holistic life world especially the life of the lower castes living under the tyranny of upper castes, where politicians and larger dominant groups treated people merely as votes and hardly as humans.

When people say, Manjhi is a story of a small man against a huge mountain, I believe that it is a story of a small mountain against a big determined but ordinary common man. His determination reminds me of the famous dialogue of SRK starrer and super hit Chennai Express-‘don’t underestimate the power of a common man’ that actually becomes central theme and moral of this whole film. Nawazuddin aptly plays Manjhi with all his professionalism, linguistic, social, cultural and environmental perfection. He and Radhika Apte together display a perfect chemistry and the story is simply the story of Manjhi’s boundless love for his wife who continues to love her even when she is gone and treats her alive and feels accountable to her even after her death.

The movie is going to be a big hit given its versatile dialogues like the last one when he says ‘Bhagwan kay bharosay mat baitho-kya pata bhagwan hamare sahare baitha ho’, implying that we should always take an initiative rather than waiting for the divine help for everything. The another dialogue is when the press reporter, Alok Babu (Gaurav Dwivedi) interacts with Manjhi who asks the reporter ‘Apna akhbar kahay nahi chaap dete’? The journalist replies that to start one own news paper is not so easy, Manjhi beautifully replies, ‘pahaad todey se bhi mushkil hai ka’, that moves Alok who inspired by Manjhi’s determination finally starts his own newspaper. Also Manjhi’s favourite punch line which he often repeats, Sa’andaar-Jabarjast –jindaabaad makes a lot of humour and speaks of his optimism. The movie is full of fun but the incidents of suffering and pain that lower caste masses used to bear silently even when untouchability was legally abolished equally speaks volumes about the oppressive social realities of that time that still continue in many parts of the country. The humour sprouts when he (Manjhi) returns to his village (Gehlore) after seven years and tries to mix with higher caste people and the furious village head as he thinks the untouchability was gone. Also his furious conversation with and intimidation to the mountain reflects his love for his wife, and simultaneously bravery and determination to defeat the huge mountain. He keeps challenging the mountain till he realizes its essence and becomes its friend later. His lines “Jabtak todenge nahi tabtak chodenge nahi” reflect his pledge to break it into pieces which he does without anybody’s help and amid huge ridicule. His travel to Delhi on foot, his struggle with the huge mountain for 22 years, his patience against public ridicule, etc, reflect his bravery, patience and hope which Nawazzuddin has played at his best though he calls his role in the movie as the toughest. The rib tickling lines like ‘fir hilatay rehna’, ‘Takya Takya khelenge’, lots of local abusive but locally prevalent conversation style, etc, make audience enjoy laugh heartily.

Nothing is impossible tells the story. The movie’s leak before the formal release is undoubtedly unfortunate but certainly this movie is a kind of work that needs to reach the millions of conscious Indian minds far and wide to know about the grave inequalities and oppression prevailing in the system and miraculous work that Dashrat Manjhi did in his life time and equally repeated by Manjhi’s cast and crew by its wonderful acting skills. The film I think is yet another quality work after recently released Bajrangi Bhayijaan and Drishyam but with a distinct and unique plot with altogether a different feel. The only critique can be on the kind of music and limited songs which do not seem catchy and enchanting. The film has already won accolades from political and government circles and has been even made tax free in the state of Bihar.

India still will have hundreds of unsung and uncelebrated Manjhi’s who in their own capacities and contexts tried something super human and made the country proud. We need to honour and acknowledge them all. Dashrat Manjhi being a common poor man did something extraordinary and proved himself as the gem of India. He proved that there can be a counter revenge against the revenge of geography. The fame of this movie also tells us that the time has come to celebrate the common man and work on the little narratives rather than making commercial Masala only. The film deserves appreciation and the actor who calls himself an average looking 5 feet 6-inch man has really proved himself by amply fitting in the character of Dashrat Manjhi playing such a difficult but the lead role in the movie.

(Author is a Delhi based Social Analyst, Columnist and Associate Editor at Eurasia Review)

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