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Naseeruddin Shah touched by memories after glorious rebirth of ‘Manthan’ at Cannes

By News Desk

May 25, 2024 03:44 PM

Bollywood star Naseeruddin Shah

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The restored version of Shyam Benegal’s landmark film Manthan, starring late actor Smita Patil, made a glorious return to the spotlight with its screening at the Cannes film festival, and the landmark film is set to be back on the silver screen after the huge gap of 50 years. The 1976 classic will re-release in theatres in June.

Prominent Film star Naseeruddin Shah along with wife Ratna Pathak Shah, late co-star Smita Patil's son Prateik Babbar, Dr Kurien's daughter Nirmala Kurien, and Amul MD Jayen Mehta attended the screening. Shivendra Singh Dungarpur, founder of Film Heritage Foundation, the not-for-profit organisation behind the restored print, also attended the film's screening.


Naseeruddin lately wrote his precious emotions after re-experiencing his first film in Cannes during renowned news portal ‘Indian Express.”

His article following: “Several months had elapsed since Shyam Benegal’s Nishant (1975, my first film as an actor) had been released to widespread acclaim and success which had touched everyone in it – Shabana’s standing as a star got consolidated, Smita (Patil) went into orbit, Girish (Karnad) started playing lead parts in commercial movies, Amrish (Puri) became the much loved Heavy, Kulbhushan (Kharbanda), Mohan Agashe all benefitted. All, that is, except yours truly!

During that seemingly endless phase, on one of the many visits I made to Shyam’s office in the historic Jyoti Studio to seek consolation, Dayal Nihalani gave me the news that a new film was being planned. He showed me a file titled “GCMMF” which sounded like an exclamation from Don Martin comics. I was told nothing else, and the file remained closed but I would have been blind not to see the look of “I know something you don’t know bro”! in Dayal’s eyes. This epiphany occurred at a time when I was somewhat low and beginning to feel that my patience was being too sorely tested. Shyam wasn’t in that day, but in my jubilation, I bought a first-class ticket on the local back from Grant Road to Khar where I lived then.

In good time, I learnt that the unpronounceable title stood for “Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation” which was going to sponsor this film and I was to be in it! Shyam later confirmed what I had fervently hoped for, narrated the part to me, told me how much I would be paid, told me to stop shaving and be “full of beans!” So, with some money in my pocket, unshaven and full of beans, I left with the others by air to Rajkot – only the second time I was flying!

Naseeruddin Shah writes: High point of Cannes was seeing 'Manthan' again in  a theatre | The Indian Express

The next day was the costume trial and I didn’t change the kedia-chorna I put on that day through the 30-odd days of shooting. There is a canard doing the rounds that Shyam instructed us all not to bathe – pure conjecture, bathing or not was left to us and I can’t speak for anyone else, but I must confess I bathed considerably less than I usually do. Luckily, the film was not being made in Smell-O-Rama! I learnt, not too well, how to tie a turban and attempted in vain to make the Bharwads’ magnificent body language my own. Singed as my pride was after the seeming universal rejection of my work in Nishant, I decided to throw everything, including the kitchen sink, into my performance this time. Compared to the namby-pamby I played in Nishant, this was a bravura part and I finally saw some light at the end of my career tunnel. At some point early on, Shyam remarked that my face had the aggression needed for the part but my eyes were too mild. I was determined to set that right and perhaps went too far in that direction, but Shyam’s observation shone a light on how important the eyes are in performance.

The shooting went by in a blur for me and before I knew it, the film was done leaving me with a lingering sense of incompleteness because of the one fly in the ointment — the penultimate scene where I berate my fellow Dalits for coming back to the villainous Mishra (good old Amrish). My performance that day was haywire and I wasted several yards of precious celluloid messing up take after take (18, if I remember right). Finally, a still patient Shyam called for a wrap and said we’d do the scene the next day. I spent that night in a fever of guilt and nervousness, completely at a loss as to what was going wrong. Next morning, Shyam took me aside just before the shoot and held my shoulders reassuringly, “You’re trying too hard, just take it easy. Relax! Don’t be so concerned with giving a brilliant performance, just try and get across to the people you’re talking to in the scene.”


The wisdom of this advice kicked in several years later, but at that time, I was in a fervour of excitement and couldn’t really deliver except in transmitting the uncontrollable energy I felt. I did manage the scene finally, but not to my complete satisfaction, nor, I still suspect, to Shyam’s.

On the third day of its release, nervous curiosity took me to Gemini in Bandra to see it. I bought a ticket expecting to see a half empty house. The film had started and as I entered, I heard a roar of laughter. It was a laughter of acceptance not mockery, and as I sat through the film among an approving audience, with no one recognising me, all the predictions of the naysayers, “Who’s going to see this film?” “Who is interested in doodhwalas, yaar?” “It won’t run for a day”, etc. kept playing in my head. I must say, I gloated.

For me, at Cannes, the red carpet and the attendant glitz and the non-stop smiling into cameras tested my patience a tad. Deeply affected as I was by the passion and love for movies of the several thousand cine goers there, I must say I felt a bit out of place. I’m not a great fan of film festivals, I don’t enjoy running from one theatre to another, and though I like to watch a film which I know nothing about, I need time to digest the one I have just seen. So, for me, the absolute high point of the festival was seeing Manthan again in a theatre after decades. It was like revisiting that day in Gemini except that the gloating had been replaced by fond nostalgia. The Grim Reaper may have taken away many who made the film possible but that night I could reach out and touch them all again. Uber-cool Girish, glowing, gorgeous, bronze Smita, formidable but highly huggable Amrish, Sadhu Meher, Mandeep, Kalpana — so many. Their presence was palpable and shall remain. Three cheers for Shyam and Govind Nih alani will be far from enough.”

Manthan at Cannes 2024: Naseeruddin Shah, Prateik Babbar, Amul MD Jayen  Mehta Grace Red Carpet

Here is Manthan team ecstatic over restoration of the film:

The film’s director Shyam Benegal shares that he was very pleased to hear about the fantastic response to the restoration version at the Cannes Film Festival.

“But I am even more delighted that the restored film will be released in cinemas across the country. Manthan will be the first restoration of one of my films that will have a theatrical release. When ‘Manthan’ released in 1976, it was a great success as the farmers themselves came to see the film in droves, travelling in bullock carts from small towns and villages. I hope that 48 years later when the restored film comes back to the big screen this June, people across India will come to the cinema to watch the film,” Shyam said in a statement.

To this, Naseeruddin adds, “Watching the restored Manthan at its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival was a very emotional experience for me. I was overwhelmed by memories from almost fifty years ago when cinema was a vehicle of change and moved to tears by the standing ovation at the end, which was not just for myself but for the film which has more than stood the test of time and also for the beauty of the restoration. I am delighted that the film is to be released in cinemas across India and I hope that people will not lose the opportunity to watch a beautiful restoration of a historic film on the big screen. I will be going to the theatre myself to watch the film again”.

(L) Naseeruddin Shah at Cannes Film Festival; actor in a still from Manthan.

About Manthan

The film is a fictionalised version of the beginnings of the extraordinary dairy cooperative movement that transformed India from a milk-deficient nation to the world’s largest milk producer inspired by Dr. Verghese Kurien.

The film is co-written by Shyam and celebrated playwright Vijay Tendulkar. The Gujarat-set Manthan was the first crowd-funded Indian film which was entirely crowdfunded by 500,000 farmers who donated ₹2 each. The film won two National Film Awards in 1977. It was also India’s official entry to the 1976 Academy Awards in the best foreign language film category.

It also features Girish Karnad, Dr. Mohan Agashe, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Anant Nag and Abha Dhulia.

 Restored version of Shyam Benegal's 'Manthan' to premiere at Cannes Film  FestivalManthan (1976)Shyam Benegal's Manthan starring Smita Patil and Naseeruddin Shah to  re-release in Indian cinemas in 50 cities after Cannes 2024 screening :  Bollywood News - Bollywood Hungama

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