Following the release of Gour Hari Dastaan last week, here is another inspirational biopic about a common man. Dashrath Manjhi came from a family of landless labourers, living a meagre life in the shadows of evil landlords in Gehlaur village in Bihar. Manjhi may have had small beginnings but his achievement was monumental: he single-handedly carved a path through a mountain.

In Ketan Mehta’s interpretation, Manjhi (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) comes across as a man who does not believe in toeing the line. From the time he runs away from his village as a child only to return as a young adult with the naïve belief that changes in the law will filter down to his backward village, Manjhi is mischievous, feisty and indefatigable. In a lovely scene, somewhat in the vein of the comic silent movies, Manjhi falls in love with a village girl. He later discovers that she is his child bride and determinedly woos her.

The closest town to Gehlaur can only be reached by circumnavigating a mountain and traveling 70km. Unable to get his wife Phaguniya (Radhika Apte) to a hospital in time, owing to the arduous route, a traumatised Manjhi makes the mountain his enemy. With a hammer and chisel he sets off day after day to chip away at the rocky face determined to carve a path through the mountain. Working singlehandedly from 1960 to 1982, dubbed insane by his family and the villagers, he soldiers for 22 years until he has completed the rough path.

Along the way, Mehta and fellow writers Mahendra Jhakar and Anjum Rajabali dwell on the vagaries of the caste system, corruption, political apathy and an independent India grappling with concepts of equality and freedom. However, the movie falls into the trap of being overawed by its subject. It is a tad too reverential and overwritten, which dilutes the impact of an otherwise powerful story of the human will. Another minor irritant is Sandesh Shandilya’s music, which does not blend seamlessly into the narrative.

Shot in real locations, Rajeev Jain’s lensing and Nitin Chandrakant Desai’s art direction enhance the stark landscape and village life. Apte, at times struggling with the local accent, is endearing as Phaguniya. Tigmanshu Dhulia and Pankaj Tripathi are menacing as the oppressive zamindars.

Nawazuddin Siddiqui takes on the challenging lead role with guns fully loaded. He is charming and cute as the clumsy Casanova and electric as the man on a mission. From a young, hopeful man, he grows into a lonely, obsessed middle-aged one. You feel for him as he realises this is his fight alone and as you watch his changing relationship with his adversary while he provokes, berates and finally embraces the mountain.