Shyam Benegal’s ‘Manthan’ was India’s first crowdfunded movie, based on the concept of ‘The White Revolution’, co-written by Dr Verghese Kurien and produced by 5 lakh farmers.
Here’s how this movie about India’s successful dairy industry came to be funded by lakhs of individual investors.
After India gained independence, freedom fighter Tribhuvandas Patel collaborated with the farmers of Kheda district in Gujarat to establish Kaira District Co-operative Milk Producers’ Union, the first dairy cooperative society in India.
Verghese Kurien, a young graduate from the USA, arrived in India in 1949 and teamed up with Tribhuvandas to initiate ‘The White Revolution’ — one that would propel India onto the global stage.
In 1955, the cooperative successfully operated Asia’s largest dairy, with a daily production of over 20,000 litres of milk. This was when AMUL, Asia’s top milk-distributing brand, was born.
Consequently, the small village of Anand underwent a remarkable transformation and became recognised as the ‘Milk Capital of India’.
Kurien aimed to expand the movement he had pioneered throughout the nation, so he approached Benegal to create two documentaries.
But Benegal suggested making a feature film instead. “We needed to reach out to the public at large so that they would know about the largest, most successful cooperative movement in the world,” he said.
But the biggest question was — ‘Why would someone fund a film based on a bunch of farmers and their struggle to form a cooperative?’
Kurien communicated with all the cooperative unions, requesting the milk farmers to consider accepting Rs 6 instead of Rs 8 for each milk packet, but only for a single morning.
With the remaining Rs 2, they could become producers of a feature film which would tell their story. Each farmer said ‘Yes’, and thus five lakh farmers became the producers of the film.
Manthan not only recovered its expenses but also generated a modest profit and won the 1977 National Award for Best Feature Film in Hindi.
It also stood out among a handful of Indian films that were distributed internationally, reaching audiences in South Africa, South America, Central America, and even China.