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Reviving a Cinematic Milestone: ‘Manthan’ Makes Its Way to Cannes

Glimmers of the past can shine anew, even after decades have passed—this is evident with the iconic Indian film ‘Manthan’, which first made its mark in 1976. Now, after a meticulous restoration process spanning over a year and a half, this cinematic gem is set to dazzle audiences once more, this time at the internationally renowned Cannes Film Festival.

The tale behind ‘Manthan’ is as unique as its content; it’s a potent portrayal of India’s White Revolution, masterminded by the late Dr. Verghese Kurien, known as the father of the nation’s milk movement. Through the inspired direction of Shyam Benegal, the film delves into the transformative period in Indian history that empowered farmers and reshaped the country’s rural economy.

The responsibility of breathing new life into this masterpiece fell upon the shoulders of filmmaker-archivist Shivendra Singh Dungarpur. With a team of dedicated restoration experts, Dungarpur embarked on the formidable task of rejuvenating the decades-old film reel, which had suffered significant deterioration.

Dungarpur’s connection to ‘Manthan’ is deeply personal, rooted in his formative years at the Film & Television Institute of India (FTII). The film left an indelible mark on his psyche, representing more than just storytelling—it was a chronicle of a socio-economic revolution, where each farmer became a stakeholder by contributing two rupees to its production.

The challenge of restoration was formidable. The ageing film negative exhibited symptoms of severe color fading, and the audio was on the brink of being irretrievably lost. Complicating the restoration was a layer of green moss that clung to the film, posing a significant threat to the original material. The remediation process was arduous and required meticulous cleaning, digital repair, and careful color correction.

As the restored print emerged from the restoration lab, Benegal himself was taken aback by the result. He remarked that the revitalized visual quality surpassed even his original vision from over four decades prior. It was as if the film had been granted a second life, primed for a new audience on a global stage.

‘Manthan’ boasts stellar performances from a cadre of India’s acclaimed actors—Naseeruddin Shah, the late Smita Patil, the late Girish Karnad, and Anant Nag, each delivering compelling portrayals that anchor the film’s emotional resonance. The journey to Cannes is not only a triumph for the film’s legacy but also a momentous occasion for its cast, particularly for Naseeruddin Shah, who is set to attend the festival for the first time.

Joining the proud delegation at Cannes will be a constellation of individuals intimately connected to the film’s legacy—Nirmala Kurien, Dr. Kurien’s daughter, and Pia Benegal, Shyam Benegal’s daughter, among them. Their presence at the festival is a testament to the enduring impact of ‘Manthan’ and the White Revolution it embodies. Not to be forgotten are guests such as Prateik Babbar and the sisters of Smita Patil, who will add their own personal connections to the celebrated premiere.

The premiere at Cannes, kicking off on May 14th, is not just a celebration of a film revived; it serves as a tribute to the power of cinema and its capacity to transcend generations. The restoration of ‘Manthan’ is a beacon of historical preservation, showcasing the importance of safeguarding cultural heritage for future audiences to appreciate and be inspired by.

As ‘Manthan’ gears up to make its grand appearance at the Cannes Film Festival, its journey from rural India to the French Riviera stands as a remarkable story of endurance, artistry, and the relentless pursuit of bringing valuable narratives back from the brink of obscurity. The White Revolution will once again be on display, this time in the limelight of one of the film industry’s most illustrious gatherings, echoing the timeless spirit that originally brought ‘Manthan’ to life.