Manthan is a 1976 Hindi Film directed by Shyam Benegal. Set in the backdrop of rural Gujarat, the film tells the story of the White revolution pioneered by Verghese Kurien, which ushered in the era of prosperity among the milk producers of the state, while underlining the power of collective effort.

Manthan was made unique by the fact that it was a co-operative effort, true to its theme, funded by 500,000 farmers of Gujarat who donated Rs 2 each to make the film. Highly celebrated, it was India’s official entry to the 1976 Academy Awards.

Cast

  • Girish Karnad
  • Smita Patil
  • Kulbhushan Kharbanda
  • Naseeruddin Shah
  • Mohan Agashe
  • Anant Nag
  • Amrish Puri
  • Rajendra Jaspal

Crew

  • Production: Gujarat Co-op Milk Marketing Federation Ltd
  • Direction: Shyam Benegal
  • Story: Vergese Kurien and Shyam Benegal
  • Screenplay: Vijay Tendulkar
  • Camera: Govind Nihlani
  • Music: Vanraj Bhatia
  • Editing: Bhanudas Divakar

Story

Dr. Rao (Karnad), a vetenarian doctor, visits a village in the Kheda district of Gujarat along with his associates Deshmukh (Agashe) and Chandravarkar (Nag). The prime livelihood of the villagers is cattle rearing and they sell the milk to a local dairy owner Mishra Ji (Puri), who does not pay them fairly for the milk.

Dr. Rao and his team are in the village with a goal to set up a cooperative society of milk producers which will be owned and managed collectively by the villagers themselves, giving them a fair chance to work together and increase their living standards.

The first adversary that the team faces is the politcs of the village. Resentments form a  rigid caste system combined with general lack of mutual trust leads to the dalits of the village, led by Bhola (Shah), as well as the Panchayat head (Kharbanda) leads to hostilities. However, the womenfolk of the village are determined to better their lives and take initiative, led by a vocal Bindu (Patil). Slowly Dr. Rao and Bindu get attracted to each other.

When Dr Rao assures fair payment to the villagers for their milk and starts earning their trust, this irks Mishra Ji who starts plotting against him. The politics in the village escalates and Bhola defeats the Pramukh in the elections to become the Village Head. A snided Pramukh sides with Mishra Ji and starts conspiring against Dr. Rao. Aided by Bindu’s husband, they force her to make an allegation in the Panchayat that Dr. Rao has raped her.

Extremely saddened by the turn of events, Dr. Rao decides to complete the remaining work of the Co-operative and exit the village. Bhola however carries on the work with the help of villagers, notably Bindu, yielding fruit to the brave efforts of Dr. Rao.

Manthan2

A scene from the film

Commentary

Manthan literally means ‘churning’, with a reference to the Samudra Manthan (churning of the Cosmic ocean) that led of Poison and Nector. The film traces the silent cooperative revolution that happened in Gujarat in the 1970s, not only changing the economy of the region, but impacting it society and politics to a great extent. To a large underprivileged section of the society, it meant unshackling centuries of humiliation by means of economic empowerment. 

The fact that Manthan is based on real events gives strength to the belief that determined individuals can bring a significant change to the society if they are aided by the system. In a decade when cinema meant loud carricature of the art form it once used to be, the clever realism of this film stands apart. 

Shyam Benegal as a director does not need any commentary and Manthan is one of his best films, complete with a subtle jibe at the many imperfections of the society. He is solidly backed by a cast which reads like the crème de la crème of Indian New Wave Cinema. Girish Karnad, Amrish Puri, Mohan Agashe and Anant Nag are effortless in their roles, but it is Naseeruddin Shah and Smita Patil who steal the show with their raw energy. 

Awards

  • National Film Award for Best Feature Film in Hindi (1976)
  • National Film Award for Best Screenplay (1976)
  • Sent for Best Foreign Language Film from India (1977)

TRIVIA

  • The film was co-produced by 500,000 farmers of Gujarat who contributed Rs 2 each for the film
  • The tagline of the e-Choupal model developed by IRMA is inspired from a dialogue of the film “Yeh sisoty apdi cheh (It is our scoiety)” 

REFERENCE

  • Wikipedia 
  • Manthan – A Masterful Voyage into the Heart of Indian Village Life