It was a story waiting to be told. Larger-than-life and inspirational, the story of Dashrath Manjhi, the mountain man who single-handedly carved a 360-foot-long road out of a mountain owing to a personal tragedy, is better than any plot that could have been imagined by a writer.
Which is why director Ketan Mehta chose to dive right in and make Manjhi – The Mountain Man, within two years of Dashrath Manjhi’s passing away in 2007.
“Six years ago, when he died, there were a lot of articles written about him in the media and I remember reading this one article in a magazine. The moment I read it, I knew I had to do it.
This was a real-life love story; a story of a real hero who was a very, very poor man, that was just waiting to be told.” “No longer are films made on the larger majority of India’s people,” he cites as his other motivation to make the film before getting into details of its making.
“The movie entailed a lot of research but it proved easy because there was so much written about Manjhi already, and there were quite a few documentaries made on him too.
We also met his family members to know him better,” he informs. But talking of the period it is set in —1960s-1980, Mehta admits he didn’t have to do much in terms of getting the settings.props right because, “nothing has changed in that part of Bihar since the ’60s.” “It is a small village that remains underdeveloped.
They don’t get any electricity even today,” he says sounding palpably sympathetic but cheers up immediately while talking about the on-location shooting experience.
“It was life-changing,” he says recalling the adventure it was. “We’d have to be ready by 3.30am because it would take us an hour and a half to get to the location — Gehlour Hills.
It was literally in the back of beyond, it was a Naxal-infested territory, and we’d have to climb the mountain everyday and start shooting before sunrise to get the lighting right. It was very gruelling,” he avers but you know the hard work hardly mattered when Mehta says, “When you go and stand there — at the path carved by Manjhi — you can’t believe that someone actually did it just driven by the sheer madness of his dream.”
“The story makes you want to believe especially in these cynical times. For me, this movie stands for being the change you want to see, “ he thoughtfully notes.
Now, in an experience that has largely been positive, Mehta and team had to experience a bump in terms of a petition that was filed in the Patna High Court by Dhananjay Kapoor and Jamshed Ashraf asking for a stay on the release of the film.
About that, Mehta says, “When we were almost done making the film, somebody claimed that Dashrath Manjhi while on his death bed, in ICU, had put his thumb impression on an agreement, giving away exclusive rights to make a film on his life.
But the Patna High court recently dismissed the petition because Manjhi was someone who was in the public domain and no one could claim to have individual rights to his story.”Taking the fight to the court, Mehta rues, was like personally taking a leaf out of Manjhi’s life. “Just like Manjhi, I couldn’t give up either.
This case was like breaking a mountain for me,” he says before revealing that with the petition out of the way now, the movie will be releasing by the end of this year.
As we wrap up the conversation, the director makes a special point to mention his cast of actors. “Nawazuddin has done an incredible job portraying Dashrath Manjhi. He has put his heart and soul into the role.
Radhika Apte who plays his wife has done a brilliant job as well. The movie has a wonderful ensemble of performers. So, I will say that for a movie that has been made against all odds, I am feeling very grateful today.”