Director: Ketan Mehta
Cast: Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Radhika Apte and Tigmanshu Dhulia
Based on true incidents, Manjhi — The Mountain Man is one of the most remarkable stories I’ve seen onscreen. Dashrath Manjhi was born into a dirt-poor family in a low-caste rat-eating community in a remote village in Bihar.
The village was cut off from the outside world by a mountain. The mountain made movement so difficult that his wife died because she couldn’t get medical attention in time. So Dashrath spent the next 22 years carving out a road with a hammer and a chisel.
Manjhi, played by Nawazuddin Siddiqui, comes to love the implacable rock that destroyed his family. He caresses it and talks to it. But he also breaks through it, one blow at a time. The road that eventually emerges is an ode to his dead wife; it’s his Taj Mahal.
Manjhi is possessed by a dream. To make it come true, he abandons his children to his alcoholic father, wills himself to survive a cobra bite and a drought, even walks to Delhi to fight for the money that the government promised him.
Nawaz’s performance is powerful enough to help us navigate the clumsiness of the screenplay by Mehta and Mahendra Jakhar. The first half is especially jerky.
Radhika Apte is lovely as Manjhi’s wife but their relationship is dripping with sentimentality — when Manjhi hits his lowest point, his wife appears as a vision to inspire him to keep striving. Ketan aspires to find poetry in Manjhi’s grand passion. He doesn’t always succeed. But this story is so compelling that it will inspire you to face your own mountains.