Dr. Varghese Kurien left for his heavenly abode on 09th September, 2012 and I am late in paying my tribute to him. I am paying my tribute through this review which is of a movie whose Dr. Kurien himself was a part of.
Hailed as the Milkman of India, Dr. Kurien was the pioneer of White Revolution in India which not only substantially increased milk production in India but also systematized its collection and distribution and a network of milk cooperative societies came into existence through the relentless efforts of Dr. Kurien. This compaign known as Operation Flood, created dairy cooperatives all over rural India ensuring that the milk producers get the right price of the product and are saved from the exploitation of the middlemen.
However no good work could be (and can be) done smoothly in the feudalistic and exploitative set up of India. And that's shown in director Shyam Benegal's movie - Manthan (1976) whose story was given by Dr. Kurien himself. Renowned playwright - Vijay Tendulkar wrote its screenplay and legendary Shaayar - Kaifi Aazmi wrote its dialogs.
Appearing to be inspired by the real life experience of Dr. Kurien himself, the story of Manthan (the churning) starts with the arrival of a vet, Dr. Rao (Girish Karnaad) in a small village, Sanganva (Gujarat). He has been deputed by the government to start a dairy cooperative in that area. His team includes Deshmukh (Mohan Aagashe), Chandavarkar (Anant Naag) etc. Quite naturally, the local dairy owner, Mishra (Amrish Puri) who also happens to be the money-lender of the village, is not finding this activity as compatible for his exploitative business. He buys the milk from the poor milkmen of the village at very less rates and makes exorbitant profit which is now in danger due to the forming of the cooperative society in the village. On the other hand, the sarpanch, i.e., the head of the local governing body of the village (Kulbhushan Kharbanda), sees the cooperative as another means to further his power and awe in the village. The major chunk of the village population is made by the lower caste people (HARIJANS) and they look upon not only these high profile exploiters but also the urban incomers as their enemies only, mighty but unreliable. Their leader is a good-hearted but arrogant and short-tempered youth, Bhola (Nasiruddin Shah).
Quite naturally, the path ahead for the idealist young hero, Dr. Rao is thorny and stony. But he decides not to compromise with his ideals and not to get awed by the might of the opposers. He considers all human-beings as equal and endeavours to involve the HARIJAN milkmen in the cooperative society so that the purpose of the cooperative movement is served in the real sense. Bhopa first misunderstands him but once seeing his pious intentions, he joins the society with his caste brethren. Dr. Rao also gets ample moral support from a sensible and mature milkwoman - Bindu (Smita Patil). However where on one hand, Mishra is conspiring against Dr. Rao and the cooperative society, the sarpanch after losing the election of the chairman of the cooperative society to a HARIJAN youth, goes against them on the other. Mishra gets the support of the drunkard and wicked husband of Bindu in his evil scheme and he makes many moves simultaneously to jolt Dr. Rao and his endeavours and grind his own axe. The sarpanch finally arranges the calling back of Dr. Rao to his original place through a government order. However by this time, the poor as well as the oppressed masses have identified their collective strength through the inspiration of Bhola and they do not allow the cooperative society to lose its existence despite the return of Dr. Rao and his team.
Manthan is technically superior and the complete rural milieu has got enlivened on the screen. Several real villagers have also acted in the movie. Every frame (and every character) appears to be real. The length of the movie is not much but whatever is there, the narrative proves to be thoroughly engrossing for the viewer. There is no laxity or boredom anywhere.
Music director Vanraj Bhatia has made background score according to the mood of the movie. There is only one song - Mero Gaam Katha Paare, Jahaan Doodh Ki Nadiya Baahe in the movie for which Preeti Saagar won the Filmfare award for the best female playback singer. It's a Gujarati lyric penned by Niti Saagar. And now this famous song with a clip from the movie is always used as a part of the advertisement of Amul.
The famous theatre personality, playwright and actor - Girish Karnaad has excelled in the lead role of Dr. Rao. The film also features another pillar of Indian theatre - Mohan Aagashe. Many actors who were introduced to the Indian cine-audience through the parallel cinema movement of the seventies are there in this movie, viz. Smita Patil, Nasiruddin Shah, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Anant Naag etc. are there and everyone of them has left his / her mark through admirable performance. Late Amrish Puri with his peculiar dialog delivery amuses the audience despite being in a negative role.
As rightly said by Bhola to Dr. Rao in the movie that it's easy to talk about ideals (or begin with them) but the real achievement is to stick to them even when everything goes against the protagonist. The idealism of most of the idealists loses its steam and even its breath midway because they are not strong from inside to endure the adverse times. All the same, the ending scene of Manthan declares loud and clear that an idealist may lose, the ideal doesn't.