FC At Cannes

Cannes 2024 Short Take: Manthan is Searing and Relevant

Anupama Chopra

48 years ago, before any of us had heard of the term crowdsourced, director Shyam Benegal made a crowdsourced film. The title sequence of Manthan (1976) begins with the line: “500,000 farmers of Gujarat present.” Each farmer of the Gujarat Co-operative Milk Marketing Federation contributed two rupees for the production and created a cinematic landmark. Manthan, made on a budget of 10 lakh, showed at the 77th Cannes Film Festival as part of Cannes Classics. It was in stellar company – the section included Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (1954) and Jacques Demy’s The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964).

Manthan is the story of an urban vet Manohar Rao, played by Girish Karnad, who visits a village in Gujarat to establish a dairy cooperative. Rao’s idealism and insistence on equality and upliftment of the farmers disrupts the power structures of the village controlled by the local businessman and the sarpanch. Manthan delves into class and caste structures, patriarchy and the difficulty of the democratic process. The film, based on a screenplay by Vijay Tendulkar with dialogue by Kaifi Azmi, is powerful and heartbreaking. The end moved me to tears. Manthan also features the unforgettable “Mero Gaam Katha Parey”, sung by Preeti Sagar and composed by Vanraj Bhatia. And what a gallery of performances – led by a blazing turn by Naseeruddin Shah who plays Bhola, an oppressed caste villager with a personal history and Smita Patil. As Bindu, she is stunning in every way. Manthan is a searing film which speaks to today. In one scene, Bhola tells his community – “Soch vichari se vote dalna.” (Think before you vote) It’s perfect timing.