Ketan Mehta on his next biopic, Manjhi: The Mountain Man, and his lead actor’s long journey
It was a newspaper report that snapped Ketan Mehta out of his reverie one morning in 2007. It was about a “man who moved a mountain.” Dashrath Manjhi, a frail, white-bearded labourer from Bihar had single-handedly carved a road through a mountain—armed with just a chisel and a hammer—in 22 years. All in the memory of his wife who died due to lack of timely medical help. Mehta was struck by the intensity of this man’s love and decided this would be his fourth biopic. Manjhi: The Mountain Man features Nawazuddin Siddique and Radhika Apte. Mehta tells us more:
Dashrath Manjhi is your most
low-profile biopic hero after Sardar Vallabhai Patel, Mangal Pandey and Raja Ravi Varma.
I am fascinated by biopics—they are inspiring. For me, Manjhi is more inspirational than a fictional superhero. He is like Mr India, but he is very real and that makes him everybody’s hero. He made the impossible possible. On one hand there is extreme love and on the other, extreme resolve. Manjhi to me speaks of individual freedom.
Did your research take two years?
Yes, I rather enjoyed the experience of revisiting the period, as this story took place in the 50s and 60s. Facts are always stronger than fiction. After Manjhi died in 2007, newspapers and magazines had run lots of stories on him. There was enough material to build my script.
You shot in his village in Bihar.
We shot in his village, Gehlaur, a Naxal-affected area. I was awestruck when I saw the path he had created. It was a difficult shoot. We would stay in Bodh Gaya, over an hour-and-a-half away, start every day at 3.30 am, and climb mountains.
How crucial was Nawazuddin’s casting as Manjhi?
It was crucial to have a great actor on board to breathe life into Manjhi. Besides, he had the same frail body structure. Nawaz found the story incredible and he went out of his way to make it happen. I can proudly say it is going to be one of the finest performances on Indian screen. In many ways, Nawaz’s journey is similar to Manjhi’s. He had to wait for 15years to break that Bollywood mountain.
The trailer gives the impression
of it being an intense love story.
Yes, maybe more than Shah Jahan and Mumtaz. ShahJahan had many men to build the Taj Mahal, but this man was all alone. Obviously, there was no one to tell us about Manjhi’s love story, so that was created.
You seem to seek out controversies. Mangal Pandey had 85 cases filed against it. This film also faced some legal issues.
A lot of filmmakers wanted to make this into a film. We even got a legal notice from a filmmaker who claimed exclusive rights for the movie. Finally, we won the case.
Is the audience getting difficult to please?
Not at all. On the contrary, they’re more open to new ideas, as they are exposed to global films.
Manjhi: The Mountain Man is slated to release today.