News APP

NewsApp (Free)

Read news as it happens
Download NewsApp

Available on  gplay  » Movies » Why Manthan Is A Must Watch

Why Manthan Is A Must Watch

May 09, 2024 14:18 IST
Get Rediff News in your Inbox:

Shyam Benegal's Manthan will be showcased in restored print at this year's Cannes Film Festival.
It still serves as a much-needed reminder of setting aside differences in the favour of combined progress and profit, notes Sukanya Verma.

IMAGE: Smita Patil as Bindu in Manthan: The Churning.

'500,000 Farmers of Gujarat Present.'

No banner is big enough to convey the might and mass power of Manthan: The Churning's opening credit.

Shyam Benegal's 1976 social drama explored the possibility of an aatma nirbhar (self-reliant) Bharat long before it was reduced to a catchphrase by artful politicians.

Befitting that a story on the Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation was produced by amassing two rupees each from the afore-mentioned figure of dairy farmers in the Sangawa village.

But its idea sprung from a discussion between Benegal and Dr Verghese Kurien, fondly known as India's Milkman, who was instrumental in setting up Anand Milk Union Limited, better known as Amul.

Kurien's success in inspiring impoverished farmers of rural Gujarat to embrace the ideas of fair trade by forming a cooperative and doing away with middle men altogether not only proved beneficial on an individual level but also helped India become the world's largest producer of milk.


IMAGE: Girish Karnad as Dr Manohar Rao loosely modelled on Dr Verghese Kurien in Manthan: The Churning.

Though Girish Karnad's Dr Manohar Rao is loosely modelled on Dr Kurien, Vijay Tendulkar's script isn't interested in a character study. Manthan concerns itself with the difficulties of changing the status quo in a social arrangement that's grown used to both exploitation and compliance.

When Rao arrives in a sleepy village as the team leader of a dairy board, everyone is ecstatic to have a doctor in their midst. Except he's a veterinarian. But in the absence of infrastructure and amenities, he's forced to try his expertise on sickly humans as well.

Manthan doesn't pause to question the ethics in his actions.

As far as the movie is concerned, he's always a saviour figure.

But there's no romanticising him either. Rao's impulses are fuelled by reason and feasibility. He may not always make the best decisions but he always has everybody's best interests at heart.

This country needs idealists, scoffs Mishraji (a dependably smarmy Amrish Puri), the man monopolising the milk sales by controlling the rates as he pleases before proceeding to caution, 'parivartan se hamesha tariqui nahi hoti.'

IMAGE: Smita Patil and Girish Karnad in Manthan: The Churning.

Undaunted, Rao and his companions (a suave Mohan Agashe, playful Anant Nag and awfully young Salim Ghouse) pursue their mission to win the villagers' trust and educate them in how functioning through the cooperative's self-sustainable model grants them true autonomy.

Over the course of these interactions, Rao bumps into the fiery Bindu (Smita Patil).

When we first see her, she pops out of her hut and responds to Rao's inquiry to her son about his 'baap' by snarling, 'Baap ahiyan hai. Tamare ko kya chahiye?' (Kaifi Azmi's tough dialogues hit the nail on the head.)

Smita Patil's oeuvre of rustic characters is immense but Bindu's raw, reckless feminism creates such an intense impact in Manthan, it's a pity Benegal refuses to realise it beyond a profound gaze.

Often, its Preeti Sagar's National Award-winning rendition of the wholehearted Mero Gaam Katha Parey, penned by sister Niti (later used in an popular Amul commercial) that gives us a peek into her soul.

IMAGE: Naseeruddin Shah as Bhola in Manthan: The Churning.

Rao and Bindu have a silent chemistry, one that is left just the way it is by acknowledging their marital status as well as caste differences.

Married to a good-for-nothing drunkard, Bindu is a Dalit.

As is Bhola (Naseeruddin Shah), a fellow villager wary of city slickers due to his personal experiences from the past.

Stealing every scene he is in, Naseer's integrity and ire makes him a delight in his refusal to suffer fools or elites.

On the other side of the caste-based tussle is Kulbushan Kharbanda's haughty village head.

Rao's emphasis on equal rights opportunity is as lost on his upper caste conditioning as it is spurned by distrustful Dalits.

Between Mishraji's mischief making, Bhola's thawing and turnaround, Bindu's misplaced melancholy, Sarpanch's sulking and Rao grappling with his joyless, casteist wife (Abha Dhulia) alongside legal notices for crimes he did not commit, Manthan hurriedly advances to host an election around the privileged and marginalised.

IMAGE: Girish Karnad with Amrish Puri, who plays politician Mishraji in Manthan: The Churning.

It's not so much the outcome of the votes but the idea of agency it sparks off among the village folk, what The Churning in the title alludes to.

Manthan stands out in its authentic portrayal of rural complexity and crisis.

Never one to embellish his cinema, Benegal treats the bleak reality of village life matter-of-factly, all the time mindful of their spirit, critical of their ignorance and delighted by their initiative.

Girish Karnad's innate grace and goodness as Rao is an embodiment of these sentiments in a way that brings Mohan Bhargav's optimist to mind, especially when he explains the significance of collective strength to the people of Charanpur in Swades -- ek na hum ho paaye toh anyay se ladne ko hogi koi janta hi nahi. Phir na kehna ke nirbal hai kyun haara.


IMAGE: Naseeruddin Shah and Girish Karnad in Manthan: The Churning.

Manthan's on screen gusto rubbed off on the audience too, especially the ones it was about, as they flocked in trucks to catch their triumph of spirit ensuing in a critically as well as commercially successful endeavour.

Now, nearly half a century later, all set to showcase the power of synergy in all its restored print glory by Film Heritage Foundation at the 77th Cannes Film Festival, Benegal's Manthan is a much-needed reminder of setting aside differences in the favour of combined progress and profit.

Get Rediff News in your Inbox: