Indian Cinema’s Heritage Shines Bright: Shyam Benegal’s ‘Manthan’ Set for Cannes Revival

During the filming of ‘Manthan’ in the remote Gujarat village Sanganva, director Shyam Benegal instructed his actors, including Naseeruddin Shah, Smita Patil, Girish Karnad, and Amrish Puri, to wear the same clothes for the entire 40-45 day shoot, reflecting the locals’ reality of enduring days without bathing due to water scarcity. Benegal humorously remarked, “if they stank, they would stink jointly!”

The 77th Cannes Film Festival, set to take place from May 14-25, presents an Indian showcase with ‘Manthan’ among the eagerly-awaited films. Payal Kapadia’s ‘All We Imagine As Light’ joins the Competition section, marking 30 years since Shaji N Karun’s ‘Swaham,’ bringing a full Indian summer to the Croisette.

Several other Indian entries grace the festival: Sandhya Suri’s ‘Santosh’ in Un Certain Regard, Karan Kandhari’s ‘Sister Midnight’ in the Director’s Fortnight, Maisam Ali’s ‘In Retreat’ in the ACID program, Chidananda Naik’s ‘Sunflowers Were The First To Know’ in La Cinef competition, and ‘The Shameless’ by Bulgarian director Konstantin Bojanov. Additionally, ‘Sauna Day’ directed by Anna Hints and Tushar Prakash features in Critics’ Week.

Beyond screenings, renowned cinematographer Santosh Sivan receives the Pierre Angenieux award and conducts a masterclass, highlighting the diverse talent representing independent Indian cinema.

‘Manthan,’ Benegal’s third feature, portrays a fictionalized account of India’s successful co-operative movement in milk production, commissioned by Dr. Verghese Kurien, the visionary behind Amul. The film garnered National Awards and served as India’s Oscar submission in 1977, embodying the essence of India’s ‘White Revolution.’

Now, ‘Manthan’ receives a grand revival, presented in the Classics Section of the festival in a restored version, much to Benegal’s delight. Despite health reasons preventing his attendance, Benegal’s wife and key cast members, including Naseeruddin Shah and Prateik Babbar, will be present, alongside Nirmala Kurien, daughter of Dr. Verghese Kurien.

The film’s restoration by Shivendra Dungarpur brings it back to its original brilliance, ensuring its legacy endures. Plans are underway for a wide release across India post-Cannes.

Dungarpur, known for his preservation efforts, continues his Cannes streak with ‘Manthan,’ India’s first crowd-funded film, reflecting the communal effort of 500,000 farmers from Kheda district.

Reflecting on the shoot, Benegal fondly recalls the cast’s immersion in village life, despite the challenges, emphasizing their commitment and camaraderie. The experience, though rugged, remains a cherished memory for Benegal, epitomizing their collective achievement.

‘Manthan’ stands as a testament to India’s cinematic heritage, its restoration and Cannes screening symbolizing its enduring impact and relevance.