Subscription Subscription
Home > News > Opinion News > Article > Manthan more than a film

Manthan, more than a film

Updated on: 26 May,2024 06:52 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Rahul da Cunha |

Shyam Babu, as he came to be known, was always the other guy—he lived an urban life, but his concerns were rural

Manthan, more than a film

Illustration/Uday Mohite

Listen to this article
Manthan, more than a film

Rahul Da CunhaI grew up around Shyam Benegal—a close friend of my family, he headed the film department at an ad agency my dad ran in the 60s, called ASP (Advertising and Sales Promotion)--but features were in his DNA, his true calling.

Indian cinema in the 70s, was primarily “masala Bollywood slanted”, escapist by nature, what was referred to as “leave your brains at home” type of “fillums”—a more serious alternate cinema, like a today’s Lapataa Ladies or a 12th Fail hadn’t blossomed yet. Anything that wasn’t “naach-gaana”, and “dishoom dishoom” became “rona-dhona”, but it did form the seeds of a powerful Parallel cinema. The movement, I’d say, had a founder—Shri Shyam Benegal—sans a second layer of comfort like the present day OTT system, you were lucky as a director-producer to get a morning show at Eros or screenings at the erstwhile Akashwani theatre. 

Foreign film festivals were always welcoming of Indian cinema. Benegal and the other members of the Parallel cinema movement, like Saeed Mirza, Gautam Ghosh and Ketan Mehta, had to find innovative ways to raise the “moolah” to make their films, occasionally NFDC financed, or kind donors, who knew “Return on Investment” was a lottery. 

Shyam Babu, as he came to be known, was always the other guy—he lived an urban life, but his concerns were rural. And always deeply human. Manthan, was a passion project, (he’d made Ankur before this), but a story about the dairy farmers of Gujarat, set amidst the backdrop of the White Revolution was ambitious—Shyam and Vijay Tendulkar wrote a fictitious story about the milk cooperative movement of Dr Verghese Kurien—he took it to Dr Verghese Kurien, I’m not sure of what transpired between the two men, but this I’m sure of—Dr Kurien conceived the most out-of-the box idea, in an era of no box office certainty. In what was India’s first crowd funded film, Dr Kurien, got 5 lakh dairy farmers to contribute R2 each and Shyam Benegal had his finances in place.

The film was a massive success, winning the National Award for Best Feature Film in 1977, as well as being India’s Foreign Film entry, I watched the newly restored 4K version of this 1976 nugget of gold last night, having first seen it as a 14-year -old. My focus was on a young Naseeruddin Shah, he was, and still is our Anthony Hopkins, in his chameleon-like abilities—there wasn’t a second that he veered from Bhola, the local Harijan leader. Directors like Shyam and Sai Paranjape (Sparsh), Ketan Mehta (Mirch Masala) and Saeed Mirza (Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyon Aata Hai), and early Vidhu Vinod Chopra, Kundan Shah (Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron), Gautam Ghose (Paar), Rabindra Darmaraj (Chakra) and Vishal Bhardwaj later (Maqbool), all saw in him one quality—he could be anything they wanted him to be, and then some. 

I’d wager that most of them saw him as their muse, remarkable putty in their hands, an exponent of their experiments, so too Smita Patil, these two had that ability to inhabit any character.

These maverick directors wishing to make their points, mostly political, the aesthetic often sacrificed to accommodate the anger, had a bunch of amazing NSD/FTII actors to choose from, Naseer, Smita, Om Puri, Amrish Puri and Shabana Azmi. 

These directors were shooting at a time when digital cameras weren’t invented yet, the Govind Nihalanis of the world, shooting their frames, using 16mm cameras. Having made a feature film this year, I’ve truly understood how hard the process is, and these men, back in 1976, worked in an analog era.

Manthan was back at Cannes, in its newly restored form, last week, still as fresh and fulfilling as ever. Manthan, a story that needs to be told, even today, after all “the churning” will continue forever.

Rahul daCunha is an adman, theatre director/playwright, photographer and traveller. Reach him at

"Exciting news! Mid-day is now on WhatsApp Channels Subscribe today by clicking the link and stay updated with the latest news!" Click here!

Register for FREE
to continue reading !

This is not a paywall.
However, your registration helps us understand your preferences better and enables us to provide insightful and credible journalism for all our readers.

Mid-Day Web Stories

Mid-Day Web Stories

This website uses cookie or similar technologies, to enhance your browsing experience and provide personalised recommendations. By continuing to use our website, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Cookie Policy. OK