Manjhi will inspire a lot of people
The team of the greatly awaited Manjhi – The Mountain Man has definitely seen its share of struggle and controversy – from a long legal battle to securing a release date to becoming a victim of piracy just ten days before the release. Like a phoenix rising from its ashes, they have only emerged stronger and are more optimistic about the August 21 release than ever.
Versatile actor Nawazuddin Siddiqui plays the role of Dashrath Manjhi who carved out a road in a mountain, in memory of his wife (Radhika Apte). Touted as one the best actors of this generation, he has given us some stupendous performances in Gangs of Wasseypur, Badlapur and more recently, Bajrangi Bhaijaan. Expectations are definitely sky rocketing as Nawaz opens up about his hopes to inspire and the passion and madness he shares in common with his character, Manjhi.
You have seen 12 years of immense struggle, quite equivalent to your character’s 22 years of struggle. How much were you able to relate to the Mountain Man?
I can relate completely to the character – his passion and his madness. That was actually the toughest bit of the movie. How a man’s madness, stubbornness, determination and will gets him to break down a mountain. I think this was the most challenging role of my career. How much ever I have been able to achieve till now, has been because of this madness I have inside me.
How did you prepare for the role with the mountain playing such a strong character in the story?
We shot on the mountain for one and a half months. The hammer I used was actually very heavy, as heavy as the one Dashrath ji had used. So all I kept thinking was that if he could work with that heavy hammer for 22 years, can’t I use it for just one and a half month? Apart from that, it was mostly preparing my mind for the madness. I already came with that passion. The challenge was to condition the mind.
Physically, I am playing three ages in the movie – a 22, 45 and 65-70 year old. In one day, I would have to continuously transit between the three ages. At one moment, I would be playing the old man and the next, I would have to change into a younger get-up and play him. I had to change my walk, behavior, everything according to the change in age. Though normally, people are shown to slow down in old age, we tried to reverse that a little. We showed him speed up in his old age and work faster.
What was your equation with Radhika Apte? Was her performance as Phaguniya helpful in your role as Maanjhi?
I had a great equation with Radhika on set. It was always nice to have her around while shooting the mountain scenes.
We live in a very pessimistic and cynical world today. Is this film also an effort to inspire people and bring out some positivity?
Everybody today is very self-centered, especially in the metros. All they care about is their own lives, jobs and financial security. We travelled to a number of small cities all over the country to select the ‘Mountain Men’. We noticed that in cities like Jaipur, Ahmedabad, Bhopal etc., there are people who are selflessly doing a lot for the society. Their salary may be just about 10-15 thousand but every day they are helping hundreds of people and students. Why do they do it? They don’t even want publicity. According to the world today, they must be mad. But it was these people who really inspired me. It is only because of them that the world is stable. This character will inspire a lot of people.
So the film was made primarily with the intent of a social agenda?
Definitely. Through the film, we wanted everybody, especially the youth in schools and colleges to know that nothing is impossible. Today, we do not actually have a role model in front of us who can inspire us with his will and skill. Dashrath Maanjhi is a common man from a small village and we want the whole world to know about him.
Yes, because these kind of stories are only found in books these days.
Even we didn’t believe it when we first read it.
This could be one of the transforming roles which could turn your career around for the better. What do you have to say about the pirated print that was leaked online just ten days before the release?
The leak you are talking about is an older rough cut, not the final one. But I believe that even the people who have already seen it will go back to the theatres to watch it and this way, the film is also getting publicized. The people who have seen it are really appreciating the movie. Also, this is not the kind of a film you can watch on the laptop. There is a mountain and a man and the film has a lot of depth. Its canvas is too wide. You cannot get the feel of the stone on a laptop. You need to be able to share your emotion with it, feel it deeply, cry and laugh with it. All the films I have been inspired by were the ones I watched in a cinema hall, which is why I am sitting here right now. If I had watched those films on a laptop, I definitely would have had a long list of inspirational movies but I wouldn’t have had any feelings to draw from.
From your first project to now, your life is a significant success story with all aspiring actors looking up to it. So there is obviously something that you’ve been doing right. Can you please share with us what you’ve learnt from your struggle?
What I have actually learnt from the struggle is that you always have to struggle in life. To be very frank, I don’t feel like I have achieved any great position in life. I am still applying the same instincts I applied when I first started off. I don’t believe that I am successful and should start relaxing. Acting has such a wide scope. The more you dive inside it, the more you find out about its vastness and details.
By Nandini Bhatia