The first crowdfunded Indian film, Manthan (1976), is a constant reminder of how powerful the might of collective action and community empowerment is in the face of adversity.
The first crowdfunded Indian film, Manthan (1976), is a constant reminder of how powerful the might of collective action and community empowerment is in the face of adversity.NFDC India

‘Manthan’: How A Landmark 1976 Indian Film Was Crowdfunded by 500,000 Indian Farmers

This 1976 film tells the story of a village's transformative organisational revolution, depicting the trials and triumphs that arise within this radical change. Set in rural India, it recounts a tale of resilience, community empowerment, and collective determination.

The first crowdfunded Indian film, Manthan (1976), is a constant reminder of how powerful the might of collective action and community empowerment is in the face of adversity. The film, produced through an effort involving over 500,000 farmers donating two rupees each, encapsulates the essence of grassroots movements and the transformative power of unity. 

Manthan (1976)
Manthan (1976)Art House Cinema

Directed by Shyam Benegal, the film paints a vivid picture of the struggles faced by farmers within the exploitative framework of the milk industry while chronicling their journey toward establishing a cooperative dairy society. Inspired by the true story of the pioneering milk cooperative movement led by Verghese Kurien, Manthan, also known as 'The Churning', captures the essence of the Indian White Revolution. 

The film chronicles the true story of a group of impoverished farmers in Gujarat's Kheda district who, driven by a collective vision for societal well-being, forgo self-interest. Spearheaded by figures like local social activist Tribhovandas Patel, their efforts led to the establishment of the Kaira District Co-operative Milk Producers' Union. This grassroots initiative soon replicated across Gujarat, culminating in the creation of Amul, a dairy cooperative founded in Anand in 1946. Today, Amul is a collaborative endeavour jointly owned by approximately 2.6 million milk producers in Gujarat.

The film intricately captures the complexities of rural life, depicting the deep-seated suspicions perpetuated by socio-political codes. The film captures the struggles of marginalized communities, the clash between castes, and the resistance against progressive policies designed by well-intentioned urban intellectuals.

Set in rural Gujarat, the film resonates with the sights and sounds of village life. It begins with the farmers daily lives revolving around cattle-rearing and milk production, which they sell to a local dairy owner, Mishra, portrayed by Amrish Puri. However, Mishra's exploitative practices pay them meager amounts for their hard-earned produce. Dr. Rao, portrayed by Girish Karnad, a young veterinary surgeon, embodies Verghese Kurien, the force behind the White Revolution.

Manthan (1976)
Manthan (1976)

Dr. Rao, accompanied by his team including Deshmukh (Mohan Agashe) and Chandravarkar (Anant Nag), arrive in the village with a vision — to establish a cooperative dairy society owned and managed by the villagers themselves. However, navigating the intricate web of village politics, rigid casteism, and societal distrust poses a formidable challenge.

Manthan portrays the evolving dynamics within the village, highlighting the transformative journey of characters like Bhola, portrayed by Naseeruddin Shah. Initially harbouring deep resentment against higher caste figures, Bhola's journey reflects a transformation fueled by trust and belief in Dr. Rao's vision. Bindu (Smita Patil) , a young mother whose husband has abandoned her, becomes a pivotal character in the film and challenges established societal norms. 

Manthan (1976)
Manthan (1976)

The film brilliantly captures the tensions and alliances between different factions within the village. The election for the head of the cooperative becomes a battleground of ideologies, symbolizing the clash between traditional power structures and emerging voices of change. Bhola's victory in the election becomes a triumph of collective willpower, sparking hope and joy among the marginalized.

Despite these tensions, the film doesn't shy away from portraying the adversities faced by those advocating change. Dr. Rao finds himself embroiled in false accusations, disrupting his vision and testing his resolve. Bindu, coerced into signing false legal documents, represents the challenges faced by women who dare to challenge the status quo.

Manthan (1976)
Manthan (1976)

Despite the setbacks, Manthan exudes hope and resilience. Dr Rao's departure from the village doesn't dampen the spirits of those inspired by his vision. Bhola and Bindu also emerge as torchbearers of change, continuing the work of the cooperative with determination.

Upon its release, the film attracted truckloads of farmers who saw it as their own, leading to its outstanding success at the box office. In its nuanced portrayal of societal complexities and human fortitude, Manthan remains a gem in Indian cinema that continues to inspire and provoke contemplation on the power of unity and the pursuit of a better tomorrow.

The entire movie is available on Youtube.