Written by S. Bowyer

 

The Mountain Man

 

     Dashrath Manjhi, grew from a mischevious boy, to his village's mad man, and transformed into a saint. He faced the changes of India such as touchability laws, and challenged arranged marriage traditions to win over his wife, Phaguniya, who he first adored when she hit him in the face with a ball of clay. It was a love that risked all, until disaster struck. Their poor village was divided from the city by a huge mountain, which took hours to cross. Phaguniya sustained serious injuries the day she fell off the mountain while on her way to meet Dashrath at work to take him food. She later died in hospital, with her husband by her side.

     Dashrath was thought of a mad-man by his village, Gehlore, after she died, haunted by his memories. The day they made love in the river, when they ran away and eloped, how Phaguniya would dance to any time music played, how she would craft her clay sculptures, her giving birth to their child in the river, and the arguments they'd had which started serious, but ended somewhat silly and typical of young love. It was his grief that caused him to choose a task his entire village thought meant he had lost his mind. Dashrath grabbed a hammer and chisel and vowed to make a path through the huge mountain, conquering it in her name. He dug and broke rock alone for almost 22 years.

 

Click here and press CC on the video frame to get English subtitles.

 

     In Manjhi, the Mountain Man, a film released just this year, we see the life, love and conviction of this tale, including the political standards that were often  hurdles Dashrath and his people had to overcome. While the film is english subtitled, it didn't feel like a low budget or bollywood film -- there was no singing from the actors. Instead it felt like an American blockbuster with an Indian cast and language. It provoked great connection with me, and I could really understand how the actors felt at the time. A film to laugh, cry, and rejoice with. The cinematography was equisite, as were the costumes and settings. Dashrath and Phaguniya were played by talented actors, Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Radhika Apte respectively, who I felt really drew the viewer into their story. Beautiful love scenes, insane and almost laughable moments with Dashrath by the mountain, and anger over the political unheavals and destructive beliefs they had to face. The part that angered me the most was the murder of an innocent woman because an old tradition was broken, and someone close to Phaguniya believed in an eye for an eye.

 

 

 

     The movie uses the flash-back method to explain the story in the first half. We first have the present, where we see the progression from Dashrath starting his dig, and developing as the years go by. Between scenes, we see how he grew up, how the abolishment of the touchability laws (rules that stopped poor citizens from certain actions, such as touching fountains, or attending certain places) affected his society, how arranged marriages dictated coupling, and how he connected to his world. We are then introduced to Phaguniya, who at first is a crush he's already promised to, only to find out her father wanted to marry her to someone else because Dashrath's family were poorer. The two eloped and developed a loving marriage away from her family.

     By the first hour, the movie gets very powerful. We see the love they felt, and how tender and special they were to each other. Then we see the accident. The scene where Manjhi creates a fire, covered in blood, which is their tradition when there is a death, is very strong. He cries and yells uncontrollable, his first and true love stolen from him. The next day he sells his last goat for a hammer and chisel. What makes the scene so intense is you can feel how much he is hurting, as previous scenes he is quite "easy-going" about his dilemmas. Dashrath ran away from his family for seven years when he was younger, after he was to be given as a debt payment, where he knew he would be abused.

     Dashrath started digging in 1960, and faced drought, toe amputation, cuts and bruises, being taken into custody, deaths of people he loved, raising children, odd jobs to keep him fed while he broke the mountain, walking 1200km to Dehli to fight rulings against him, and his own mental health.

     A journalist asked him why he persisted through it all, to which Dashrath said, "love." During the droughts, his father asked him to come to more plentiful areas and he refused, stating that leaving the mountain meant leaving her. His children asked, one night, when they would see her again, and he said when he'd broken the mountain. His grief was tied to the mountain that took her. His last connection to her was the high, steep, advance.

     As his digging continued, his village thought he was a mad-man, but after the first 15 years (1975 by then), his people began to see his progress and strength. It wasn't long until they called him a saint, and defended him, including threatening hunger strikes to protect him. He was no longer the idealist, but the creator of a path that would save them time and gain them safety. Most importantly, it was a medical advance, as the mountain that divided their village from the closest hospital would no longer be a health risk. Plans of making his path of asphalt began to circulate, meaning they could use carts to travel the distance, not just on foot. But a traitor saw this would not happen yet. In anger, he tried to get the attention of the new Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, but was shoved away and never got to speak to her.

 

The real Dashrath Manjhi

 

     Dashrath finished his path in 1982, 22 years after he started, the villagers assisting him in the last few metres. They were proud of him, and held a huge party with music. In the audience Dashrath sees his beautiful bride again, dancing the night away. It's a beautiful scene, and shows that his love for her never eased, his suffering while digging was as meaningful to him.

     Dashrath died in 2007, to join his princess once again. Four years later, the government made his path a road, covering it with asphalt. It was his dream that his work would be appreciated and helped the village of Gehlore. 52 years after he started the project, his dream became a reality.

     Manjhi the Mountain Man is available at many good online streaming sites. No DVD versions are currently being advertised, but when they're out, go for it. It's an adventure to immerse yourself in!

 

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