In Europe, the price of milk is a long-running political issue. This was also the case in the country of holy cows before a “White Revolution” began in India in the 1970s.
The dairy farmers overcame the big landowners’ resistance and the traditions of the caste system and founded dairy cooperatives which still today work very successfully.
Shyan Benegal shows the beginning of this momentous change in his feature film Manthan, today a classic in Indian cinema.
The setting is poor village where a veterinarian from the city wants to found a dairy cooperative. In an atmosphere charged like in a western, the foreigner tries to overcome the distrust of the locals.
Whether it is the big landowners’ hypocrisy, the beautiful eyes of a farmer woman, the xenophobic village sheriff, the aggressive pariah or the stubborn masses of farmers refusing to accept that they are being cheated, the young physician has to jump a lot of hurdles until the cooperative is achieved.
What is astonishing about this film is that the happy end also happened in real life. With two rupees per capita, 500,000 farmers from the Indian state of Gujarat financed the production of the film. Thousands also flocked into the cinemas and made Manthan a commercial success. Numerous awards followed.
And the story continued: today Indian dairy cooperatives are a role model – may be some day even for farmers in the EU.
by Shyam Benegal
with Girish Karnad, Smita Patil, Naseeruddin Shah, Amrish Puri