Manjhi – The Mountain Man

Manjhi_the_mountain_man_poster
Manjhi – The Mountain Man
Release date: August 21, 2015
Directed by: Ketan Mehta
Cast: Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Radhika Apte, Ashraf-Ul-Haque, Tigmanshu Dhulia, Pankaj Tripathi, Gaurav Dwivedi, Prashant Narayanan

If you belong to the internet generation, which came across Dashrath Manjhi through a shared ‘viral’ post, you’ve seen him through the one dimensional spectrum of greatness that is alluded to him. And if you’ve managed to stay unaware of him, he, almost singlehandedly, broke a mountain in Bihar. The why, and the how of this fact makes up the entire film.

Again, it was a ‘viral’ post that put this man back into popular discourse, and each of these posts are manufactured for certain motives, and Manjhi – The Mountain Man reeks of a similar vibe as well. Right from the initial few minutes, where a voiceover explains things to you, and until the introduction of the adult Dashrath Manjhi (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) and he’s made to look like a complete jock. Sure, it was done to make him appear “entertaining”, but it doesn’t feel organic. It’s almost uncomfortable to look at.

On his first day back in his village, he chances upon Phaguniya (Radhika Apte) selling handmade toys by the bus stand. Here starts the shaky romantic angle and more hokey attempts at meshing shallow humor. The love story is quite believable and has some flesh in it, but the gag-like moments in the first half appear to be mere tools for making the film just commercially viable.

The film starts earning its ticket money when it gets serious. The serious “parts” keep showing up in between as the film paces in non-linear fashion. The parallel tracks make things confusing as at one point the film seems to be telling you three separate stories about the same person, simultaneously. Sandesh Shandilya’s background score and music is cussword-ing awful. Instead of adding to the moments on screen, it subtracts legitimacy with its unimaginatively titled Phaguniya sounding off every time Dashrath thinks of her. The generic sounds would have passed off in a student short film, not here.

The drama is powerful and even smart in spurts, one such scene is when the country’s then prime minister comes visiting to Manjhi’s hamlet. The whole sequence doesn’t overstay its welcome and is satirical in a subtle way. His struggle to survive, after facing abandonment on multiple fronts, in the mountains in extreme conditions is very well depicted. The earlier back and forth between the parallel tracks makes the film’s tone difficult to grasp. Once it leaves that approach and simply focuses on Dashrath’s journey, it starts to become compelling to watch.

Siddiqui is wasted in pulling off antics similar to the ones that he’s excelled in Gangs of Wasseypur and The Lunchbox. I’ll say the same thing again, he finds new strengths when he does things that he hasn’t done before; when he shreds the persona of being a goof. That, precisely, is the issue with the entire film. It tries to be many things that it shouldn’t have bothered to be. It casts Tigmanshu Dhulia, Pankaj Tripathi as the classic antagonists, to add more subtext to the plot, and to perhaps offer opportunities to build character actions and choices.

Manjhi – The Mountain Man isn’t as daunting and taxing to watch as breaking a hill, but it’s surely less effective as a film than what it could have been.

My rating: **1/2 (2.5 out of 5)

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