Manthan's Charm Lies in its Layered Narrative

Manthan deals with everything from femininity to fidelity and doesn't rely on one conflict to appeal to the audience
Manthan's Charm Lies in its Layered Narrative

I wish I had better political context in mind to have a holistic perspective on Manthan (1976). But that works in my advantage as I will only concern myself with the attitude of the movie towards the viewers and not the larger picture.

Director Shyam Benegal is able to stay honest to how minimalistic the story is. The screenplay remains largely facile and scampers off the main plot to explain the overall view of the village. This develops well into the climax, commenting on the major concern of the film: the cooperative system. The dialogue doesn't play as much a significant role as the imagery and the sound effects.

The authenticity lies on the shoulders of sound effects and cinematography. There are more wide/landscape shots that allow the viewer to blend in with the gravity of the place and the moving shots are slow, as the lives and movements of a small diary enterprise may seem. The song "Mero Gaam Katha Parey," manages to capture the angst and struggle that one might relate to the geography and economy of the place. It is when this song is last played, and Girish Karnad is about to leave Manthan, that I felt a wave of benevolence as well as an intolerance towards the tragedy of the film. The story of Bindu (Smita Patil) and Dr Rao (Karnad) feels personal. One experiences the hurt along with them.

The performances are impressive. Naseeruddin Shah, in a special appearance, makes a rousing impact, especially since his role doesn't align itself as good or bad. However, the charm of the film lies in its interwoven storytelling, that choses to shift focus from femininity, to fidelity, to casteism, to corruption, and doesn't rely on one prominent conflict to appeal to the audience. Through this, the director has been successful in displaying a fair reflection of the modern society. In fact, the awareness of systemic issues is sufficient to the extent that even in the 21st century, the ideas of the film stay relevant.

In one of the most appealing shots of the film, the leading veterinarian is looking at a married woman's feet, dangling in a stream. Perhaps this represents the fluidity of imagery and storytelling that Manthan harbours. It deals with the conflicts faced by people in rural India: to grow or to conserve, to fight or to be silent. The film is about people, but I wish the protagonist had been portrayed as more than just a city man. However, overall, Manthan is heartfelt and informative, and successfully makes an important story intriguing.

Related Stories

No stories found.