Celebrating May Day – Watching Shyam Benegal’s Classic ‘Manthan’


I thought let me celebrate this May Day by watching Shyam Benegal’s milestone movie ‘Manthan’.  A classic dedicated to women working in the renowned cooperative ‘Amul’ – the taste of India –  this movie changed the course of thought process in people’s movement.
Film Heritage Foundation’s hat trick at the Festival de Cannes.
Film Heritage Foundation returns to the Cannes Film Festival for a third year in a row for the red-carpet world premiere of the 4K restoration of Shyam Benegal’s “Manthan” (1976) – India’s first crowd funded film produced by 500,000 farmers who contributed Rs.2 each towards the production of the film.
“Manthan”, a fictionalized version of the beginnings of the remarkable dairy cooperative movement that transformed India from a milk-deficient nation to the world’s largest milk producer inspired by Verghese Kurien, the Father of the White Revolution, was restored by Film Heritage Foundation at Prasad Corporation Pvt. Ltd.’s Post – Studios, Chennai and L’Immagine Ritrovata Laboratory, in association with Gujarat Co-operative Milk Marketing Federation Ltd. (Amul), the cinematographer Govind Nihalani and the director Shyam Benegal.
The restoration required the best surviving elements: the 35 mm original camera negative preserved at the NFDC- National Film Archive of India and the sound was digitised from the 35 mm release print preserved at Film Heritage Foundation.
A Film about Transforming Lives in Rural India 
I have seen this film about 15 years ago but still remember quite well, may be because I come from the region plotted in the film. The story of farmer’s revolution is true and today Amul is the world’s largest co-operative dairy. This film has actors, who at that time, were either newly graduated from Film Institute or had few films on their names but I think that is the charm, where the director could squeeze out the natural talent to show overwhelming expressions in the characters. In the later years all the actors of Manthan – Smita Patil, Naseeruddin Shah, Girish Karnad and Amrish Puri – became highly acclaimed actors. The direction is superb the songs and music are unique.
How can anyone sit through this movie and not be moved by the plight of poor people the world over who have been controlled by tradition, superstition, power, and, greed. Every country in the world is reflected in this eloquently told story of poor Gujarati dairy farmers whose sole means of existence is based on their buffalo’s milk and the control they are placed under by the higher castes of society. Shyam Benegal has told a very straightforward and real tale of the desire to reform the past and how difficult a task it is to bring change to a simple village under the spell of centuries of belief systems that rob the individual’s chance of ever rising out of poverty and the control of a few. A gem and a very sobering film for all to consider.
My uncle who was a movie buff saw this movie when it released in theaters back in the 70’s. He insisted that I watch the movie before any other. So, I saw the movie on Amul official website (you can watch it online ) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=91qliAxU1pA and was stunned!!. It has been 49 years since this movie was released but its charm remains timeless. Time can erode a movie technically but the emotional part if in its place remains intact. The acting is brilliant, so is the direction and technical support. The film won the 1977 National Film Award for Best Feature Film in Hindi and National Film Award for Best Screenplay for Vijay Tendulkar. It was also India’s submission for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film for 1976.
Shyam Benegal takes you to Gujarat in the small village. You actually empathise with the villagers and want to join them in their fight against the Milk Mafia played to the hilt by Amrish Puri. It is fair in length, there is never a boring moment and as the climax approaches, the tension actually gets to you. It is an emotional ride. I will watch it 10 times if they re-release it in theaters. A must watch.
– Rajesh Jadhav