‘Kurien’s genius and his faith in farmers made Manthan possible’

Filmmaker Shyam Benegal made Manthan in 1976 after a research on Operation Flood

It was during my advertising days when I was working for Sylvester Da Cunha's ASP that I met Dr Verghese Kurien. The agency was handling the account of Amul, which in those days was a relatively young organisation. It was the famous Anand pattern of administration where farmers owned cooperatives that interested me. I was fascinated to learn how this one man made all this happen.

I made ad films for Amul butter and baby food, and he must have liked it because when in the 70s I left advertising to start making films, he asked me if I could make a documentary on Amul, highlighting the work of the Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation. The then Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri was impressed with the way the Federation was run. Shastriji asked him to head the National Dairy Development Board in Delhi but Dr Kurien famously told him: "There are no farmers in Delhi, so why should I go there? I'll continue to stay put here and whatever I have to start will start from Anand." Shastriji agreed and that led to Dr Kurien spearheading Operation Flood.

Dr Kurien asked me to make a film on Operation Flood and I made two films on it. The idea of Manthan came from the research on Operation Flood.

I told me, "You and I may like these documentaries but it's highly unlikely that we'll show it to people. We need a feature film to get the word out. I'll need money to make a feature film." He wanted to know what budget I'd be comfortable with, I said about Rs 10 lakh. He asked farmers who came to Anand centres to give Rs 2 each and thus made them all producers of the film. In the publicity material, we had every farmer's name. Manthan had half-a-million producers. It was Dr Kurien's genius and his faith in farmers that made Manthan possible. Once Manthan was ready we met with a very non-enthusiastic response from distributors. Dr Kurien invited our half-a-million producers with their families to the first screening of Manthan. Hoards of farmers came in trucks to see the film that they helped produce in a cinema hall. It created the right buzz and distributors got the faith to release the film. Another striking aspect of Manthan was the famous Preeti Sagar song, Maro Gaam Katha Parey, which was later used in Amul advertisements.

Dr Kurien is one of the greatest heroes of the first 50 years

of development in our country. He was a marvellous person.

He did have a short temper and had a reputation of not suffering fools gladly but we got along very well. Even when he was the chairman of the National Dairy Development Board, he took a salary of Re 1. They don't make men like him anymore. He epitomised idealism. He never bowed his head in front of anybody except a farmer. He made the farmer dream.

(As told to Harneet Singh)

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