In a time when Bollywood has been surprisingly pushing out repeated hits, the story of Manjhi-The Mountain Man hits the big screen. Based on a truly inspiring story of a man who single-handedly cuts an entire mountain with only a hammer and chisel, and an exceptional actor like Nawazuddin Siddiqui to beat, Manjhi was set to be a real classic. Or was it?
To tell you the truth, I was in it for knowing the story of this man and also to see Nawazuddin’s performance. Nawazuddin didn’t disappoint at all, but the movie really did.
I guess many will watch this movie after knowing the actual story so there’s no real point in giving out spoiler alerts in this review. The story of Dashrath Manjhi will be searched by many for a while from now, and I’m ready to believe to every bit of it. But given Bollywood’s track record of shamelessly ignoring the true facts in stories such as these (Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, I still haven’t you), I have many doubts. The trouble is, Manjhi came from a very poor background and belonged to an even remoter place in Bihar. So most of his story is still missing. But there are lot of extras in this movie that I still feel the need to make sure of:
- Did Manjhi really meet and have a photo taken with the then prime minister Indira Gandhi?
- Did Manjhi really go to Delhi on foot?
- Was Manjhi really arrested on grounds of encroaching on a protected area, the Gehlour Hills? (Which was true as the hill was under the protection of Indian Wildlife Protection Act)
- Was the sum of 25 lacks really sanctioned for his assistance?
- Was there really an Alok Jha?
And so many more.
I am trying to find out the answers and if I do, I’ll add them here later.
Directing & Script
But that’s that. For a movie, you have to change a lot things. Much work goes into writing a decent script for a feature film, as there’re a lot of different things to be kept in mind. Mind you, this is not a simple book writing. Even if a story is adapted from a novel, everything has to be rewritten to give form to a movie that runs for less than three hours. So how was Majhi done? Horribly.
There was a lot of potential here. The first half of the movie is comparatively quite better as it explores the horrible social conditions and the prevalent caste system, which was unimaginably worse in those times. The director never shied away from showing the numerous references to a poor village life in the middle of nowhere in the state of Bihar. I particularly liked how generously they used mud and filth to dictate the numerous encounters of Manjhi and his future wife, Falguni Devi. And the cast also wasn’t special in anyway when it came to looks, so all that made the village scene even more relatable. But that’s where the good part ends.
Instead of focussing on other social plights like the problem of Naxalites, or even the simple implications it had on the personal life of Manjhi, the death of his father, the movie just moves on like nothing ever happened.
Instead of focussing on the aberrant prevalence of corruption in the government, the movie just shows all of it as a small hindrance to Manjhi’s monumental endeavor.
I’m saying this because instead of focussing on such solid story elements, Ketan Mehta decides to focus on how much Manjhi missed his wife.
Bollywood has a very stupid obsession with generating sentiment whenever it can. And it does the same here in Manjhi. The movie repeatedly reminds the audience how much Manjhi missed his wife and how much broken he was without her with half-assed VFX-scenes. Also, one of the biggest downside to the movie was the poor dialogues. Siddiqui was impeccable. There’s no denying it. But even the greatest have to stick to the script and this one was real bad. Dialogues were almost consistently poor and the fact that half of them were directed at the skies and mountain didn’t even help one bit. After so many years of film-making, this is one department where Bollywood still feels immature. People should realise that good visuals are only an accessory to storytelling, not a must. It is a common feature in movies like these where the characters themselves whine about their misery otherwise it is narrated by someone else. I mean people will still get it if they show it right, and there’s no shortage of talent in this country to do that. That’s one of the most irritating part of most Bollywood films, and sadly Manjhi suffers the same fate.
Nawazuddin Siddiqui, and half of the cast of Gangs of Wasseypur. Tigmanshu Dhulia, Pankaj Tripathi, and Nawazuddin Siddiqi; it was a real joy to watch the three share the silver screen once again. The acting was top notch- there’s no doubt about that. People have already started claiming the National Film Award for Nawazuddin. But other than him, many overacted at times. His dad, played by Ashraful Haq for instance overacted throughout the length of the movie. (The stupid script also has to take some blame for him as well) And the scene where he plays with his two kids. The latter part, in particular, was one of the lowest points of acting in the film. You could easily make out how artificial their acting was- but they’re just kids anyway. (Then again, my biggest role in life was in our school dramas so who am I to tell?)
And Radhika Apte was stunning as usual and was pleasingly bold on screen. Some things just make everything worthwhile in the end.
Why is there a special effects section in a biopic, right? This one here is worth mentioning. This movie has some of the worst examples of special effects employed in a movie of recent times. Of course, this was a low budget movie. But those scenes were completely unnecessary as well.
- The scenes where Manjhi is shown taking on the mountain were always excessively filtered with an HDR-look in addition to an overexposed picture.
- The flames were looking really fake and felt more like the world’s weirdest camera artifact.
- The snake that bit Manjhi- yeah, like it was believable!
- The dream-sequence where Manjhi embraces his beloved Falguni Devi- yeah, that was the worst. I mean it literally looked like they were making out on top of a glass floor with a digital rendering of the mountain shown below. At that moment, I felt bad for Nawazuddin even for doing that scene!
- The final scene where the people manage to topple a giant rock with the help of a few metal rods-, please! The rock looked like a simple overlay that was moving across the screen. And in the end, it was just rolling forward in a nearly flat road, in constant velocity. Okay, that seems legit.
I am very particular about this in every movie because known it or not, music is a very integral part of any movie and can either make or break a movie. This one broke the movie worse than a compound fracture.
The thing about the score is that it tries a bit too much. There are a lot of great soundtracks that feature lots of powerful tunes (in fact, I’m listening to the main theme of The Winter Soldier), but everything here is misplaced. I personally would have preferred a much subtle background score with some Indian-classical twist thrown into it. And then there’s the same old Bollywood trait here as well- the constant music. There is no moment of silence here at all. I sometimes wonder if the music directors have the general assumption that the audience can only think when the music is playing.
Like I said, Manjhi was a golden opportunity for Ketan Mehta and he missed it by that much. He could have told a lot of things, but instead decided to make it an overly stretched out love story. To me, the movie was a big disappointment and even the likes of Nawazuddin Siddiqui wasn’t enough to save. The second half is a prime example of all the typical Bollywood movie traits that make every movie feel half-baked and stupid. This movie was a waste of talent and in the end, it just left me disappointed.
But this one is still a must watch as I feel that everyone should know the story of this remarkable individual. (Or better watch the 2012 documentary, The man who moved the Mountain directed by Kumud Ranjan.)
PS. The road was finally constructed four years after his death. It leaves me heartbroken that the man never got to see his dream come true. May his soul rest in peace.