In­dia’s ‘Moun­tain Man’ story inspires Bol­ly­wood biopic


The re­mark­able true story of an In­dian man who spent 22 years chis­el­ing a mas­sive gap in a moun­tain out of love for his dead wife hits cin­ema screens Fri­day.

Dashrath Man­jhi, an im­pov­er­ished la­borer from In­dia’s low­est caste, em­barked on the mon­u­men­tal en­deavor af­ter his wife died in 1959 af­ter an ac­ci­dent, be­cause she had not been able to re­ceive ur­gent med­i­cal care in time.

Get­ting to the near­est town in­volved go­ing around the moun­tain, a 55- kilo­me­ter jour­ney, and Man­jhi didn’t want other vil­lagers to suf­fer the same fate.

Work­ing day and night he chipped away at the moun­tain in Gehlour, in eastern Bi­har state, us­ing just a ham­mer and a chisel, to re­duce the dis­tance to 15 kilo­me­ters by cut­ting a di­rect path through rocks.

It took him un­til 1982 to cre­ate the path, which is around 110 me­ters long and in some places more than nine me­ters wide.

“The story is beau­ti­ful and com­pelling. He made the im­pos­si­ble pos­si­ble and his work has helped thou­sands,” said Bol­ly­wood star Nawazud­din Sid­diqui, who plays the lead role in “Man­jhi — The Moun­tain Man.”

“The most dif­fi­cult as­pect was to cap­ture the mad­ness. His work is ex­tra­or­di­nary. He should be an in­spi­ra­tion and an icon for the youth,” Sid­diqui told AFP.

Man­jhi died from can­cer of the gall blad­der in 2007, aged 73, and was rec­og­nized with a state fu­neral in Bi­har.

He has been quoted as say­ing that when he first started break­ing the moun­tain, lo­cals thought he was crazy but later they changed their minds.

Even af­ter Man­jhi had fin­ished, it took the lo­cal gov­ern­ment another three decades to con­vert it

into a tarred road.

‘How did he achieve it?’

Bol­ly­wood film­maker Ketan Me­hta said his re­sponse was one of dis­be­lief when he first heard the story and he just knew he had to make a movie about it.

“Peo­ple called him mad but how did he achieve it sin­gle­hand­edly? I went there and saw the moun­tain and the path he had carved. It was in­spir­ing,” Me­hta told AFP.

Sid­diqui, whose film cred­its in­clude “The Lunch­box,” plays Man­jhi from a young man right through to his later years. In­dian ac­tress Rad­hika Apte plays Man­jhi’s wife.

“‘Man­jhi — The Moun­tain Man’ is a film about the hu­man spirit and a mon­u­ment to love. Un­for­tu­nately too of­ten we re­alise the value of a per­son only af­ter they die,” the di­rec­tor added.

Rais­ing funds for the pro­duc­tion, con­vinc­ing peo­ple to sup­port the film and shoot­ing in re­mote parts of In­dia were some of the chal­lenges Me­hta faced, he said.

The film has also faced con­tro­versy. In 2013, film­maker Dhanan­jay Kapoor blocked its re­lease, claim­ing that he had the rights to Man­jhi’s story. How­ever, the court dis­missed the pe­ti­tion and ruled in fa­vor of Me­hta.

Man­jhi’s fame and the sub­se­quent at­ten­tion has also left mem­bers of his fam­ily dis­grun­tled, ac­cord­ing to a re­port in the Times of In­dia news­pa­per, which quoted a rel­a­tive com­plain­ing that many VIPs had vis­ited their home but had bro­ken prom­ises to help them out of poverty.

Me­hta pieced his script to­gether based on meet­ings with vil­lagers and lo­cal jour­nal­ists, and news­pa­per ar­ti­cles.

But the di­rec­tor was forced to be imag­i­na­tive when it came to the de­tails of Man­jhi’s re­la­tion­ship with his wife.

“The facts are facts but lit­tle is known of the love story, which is where we have filled in the blanks,” he said.

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