Shyam Benegal's career span has so many award winning movies that it is difficult to decide which one to watch first. Ankur was the first choice and then we stumbled upon Manthan. Manthan, an extraordinarily powerful and intense depiction of social change won many awards and apart from winning two National awards, it was also the Indian submission for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language in 1976.
In this story, a young and high-principled engineer and a construction crew have been sent to a remote rural town to organize and build a milk co-op. The conservative townspeople, especially those of the untouchable caste who have the most to gain, resist progress. The engineer makes a few allies on the local scene but is ultimately driven away when the forces of conservatism and corruption join together. Still, he has inspired a few people, and there is a chance that the co-op will be built after all. The crux of the story is the struggle of Indian dairy farmers to gain a fairer share of the proceeds of their labor from the larger milk-processing companies to whom they sell their raw milk. Eventually all this leads to the White Revolution in India. The film traces the origins of the movement through its fictionalized narrative, based around rural empowerment, when a young veterinary surgeon, played by Girish Karnad, a character based on then, National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) chief, the 33 year old Dr. Verghese Kurien, who joined hands with local social worker, Tribhovandas Patel, which led to the setting up of a local milk cooperative, in Anand, Gujarat.
One highlight of this film is the precise and highly observant way that it depicts small local and human peculiarities. 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 most of these actors became kings of art cinema. Smita Patil and Girish Karnad are just mind-blowing.
The direction is superb; the songs and music are unique. It is fair in length, there is never a boring moment and as the climax approaches, the tension actually gets to you. 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 about change to a simple village. It is an emotional ride. For all those who want THE TASTE OF INDIA, watch the film.