Love's labour immortalised

Actors Radhika Apte and Nawajuddin Siddique at a promotion for Manjhi - The Mountain Man, based on the true story of an Indian man who spent 22 years chiselling a path through a mountain to reduce the distance from his village to town, after his wife
Actors Radhika Apte and Nawajuddin Siddique at a promotion for Manjhi - The Mountain Man, based on the true story of an Indian man who spent 22 years chiselling a path through a mountain to reduce the distance from his village to town, after his wife died because she could not get medical help in time after an accident.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Film pays tribute to man who chiselled path through a mountain out of love for dead wife

MUMBAI • The remarkable true story of an Indian man who spent 22 years chiselling a massive gap in a mountain to honour his dead wife hit cinema screens yesterday.

Dashrath Manjhi, an impoverished labourer from India's lowest caste, embarked on the monumental endeavour after his wife died in 1959 when she did not get urgent medical care during an accident.

Getting to the nearest town involved going around the mountain, a 55km journey, and Mr Manjhi did not want other villagers to suffer the same fate.

Working day and night he chipped away at the mountain in Gehlour, in eastern Bihar state, using just a hammer and a chisel, to reduce the distance to 15km by cutting a direct path through rocks. It took him until 1982 to create the path, which is around 110m long and in some places more than 9m wide.

"The story is beautiful and compelling. He made the impossible possible and his work has helped thousands," said Bollywood star Nawazuddin Siddiqui, who plays the lead role in Manjhi - The Mountain Man.

"The most difficult aspect was to capture the madness. His work is extraordinary. He should be an inspiration and an icon for the youth," Mr Siddiqui said.

Mr Manjhi died from cancer in 2007 at age 73, and was recognised with a state funeral in Bihar.

He had been quoted as saying that when he first started breaking the mountain, the locals thought he was crazy but they later changed their minds. Even after he had finished, it took the local government another three decades to convert it into a tarred road.

Bollywood film-maker Ketan Mehta said his response was one of disbelief when he first heard the story and he just knew he had to make a movie about it.

"People called him mad but how did he achieve it single-handedly? I went there and saw the mountain and the path he had carved. It was inspiring," Mr Mehta told AFP.

"Manjhi - The Mountain Man is a film about the human spirit and a monument to love. Unfortunately too often we realise the value of a person only after they die," the director added.

Mr Mehta pieced his script together based on meetings with villagers and local journalists, and newspaper articles.

But the director was forced to be imaginative when it came to the details of Mr Manjhi's relationship with his wife.

"The facts are facts but little is known of the love story, which is where we have filled in the blanks," he said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 22, 2015, with the headline 'Love's labour immortalised'. Print Edition | Subscribe