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Did Manjhi-The Mountain Man glorify molestation and stalking?

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Manjhi, the biopic on the Mountain Man of India, Dashrath Manjhi is directed by Ketan Mehta and produced by NFDC. Manjhi was a poor laborer in Gehlaur village, near Gaya in Bihar, India. The role of Dashrath Manjhi was played by the breathtakingly talented Nawazuddin Siddiqui, while the extremely versatile Radhika Apte, played the role of his wife.

The film starts off with a young Nawazuddin Siddiqui being smitten by a beautiful Radhika Apte. The scene was set on the backdrop of the abolition of the caste system.

As Apte was gyrating to the news of “anybody can touch anybody now”, Nawaz’s character was spellbound by Apte’s beauty and started groping her, taking the above phrase in a much too literal manner. As this scene was playing out and later with a couple of scenes in which Nawaz’s character stalks Apte’s character – you feel as if you are seeing a deglam version of ‘Raanjhanaa’ (2013) or all the mindless sexist patriarchal Hindi and South Indian movies which glorify molestation and stalking. This movie, much like those movies, also was catering to a thought that the girl enjoys it or likes to be stalked and groped.

Even on the issue of child marriage, the director took a very puerile method of dealing with it. The scene in which Nawazuddin goes to break off his tie with his child bride, who he does not even remember now, is less funny and emptier as it makes a mockery and a joke out of a very pertinent issue specially a ritual so rampant in the 60s.

Ketan Mehta of ‘Mangal Pandey’ (2005) and ‘Rang Rasiya’ (2014) fame is predominantly a documentary filmmaker. Mostly the problem or the issue faced by a documentary filmmaker is that they struggle putting the screenplay together in a cinematic way. They are so focused on highlighting the key events of a person’s life in case of a biopic or a documentary on a person that sometimes the flow of the script gets compromised. This is exactly what has happened here.

The sole focus should have been – How a man, widely known as the “Mountain Man”, was a poor laborer in Gehlaur village, near Gaya in Bihar, India, who carved a path through a mountain using only a hammer and chisel. But instead it talked about a whole range of issues, from labour exploitation, caste system, rapes and other atrocities on women of lower caste by employers of upper caste, child marriage, the politics of opportunism, as well as a romantic relationship between a couple.

In all this, the impact of the movie has been significantly reduced. The film still belongs to Nawazuddin Siddiqui for his life’s best performance and an honest and an earnest portrayal of Dashrat Manjhi. Radhika Apte also gave a sincere performance playing Nawaz’s wife in the film but a convoluted script and a confused screenplay sucked the soul out of the film making it somewhat unbearable to watch.

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