The film traces the origins of the movement through its fictionalized narrative, based around rural empowerment, when a young veterinary surgeon, played by Girish Karnad, a character based on then, National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) chief, the 33 year old Verghese Kurien, who joined hands with local social worker, Tribhovandas Patel, which led to the setting up a local milk cooperative, in Anand, Gujarat.
Dr. Rao (Girish Karnad), a young veterinary doctor with his team of Deshmukh(Mohan Agashe), Chandravarkar (Anant Nag) and others comes to a village in Kheda district,Gujarat. The village is inhabited by poor people whose chief occupation seems to be cattle-rearing and producing milk, which they sell to a local dairy owner Mishra Ji (Amrish Puri). Mishra Ji pays them ridiculously low amounts for their milk. Dr. Rao and his team have arrived with the purpose of setting up a co-operative society dairy which will be owned collectively and managed by the villagers themselves. As Dr.Rao and his team grapple with village politics, rigid casteism and general distrust of the village folk, they face planned hostility from the local Harijan community's leader Bhola (Naseeruddin Shah) who harbours deep anger and resentment against the higher caste Panchayat Head (Kulbhushan Kharbanda). Local village women are led by a feisty young woman Bindu (Smita Patil), mother of a young child whose husband has supposedly left her. Dr. Rao wins the trust of Bindu and other villagers by testing their milk and paying them fair amounts for their high fat-content milk and this irks Mishra Ji. Deshmukh is worried by the caste politics and divide between the higher castes and Harijans in the village and repeatedly warns Rao against getting involved in it. Chandravarkar gets attracted to a local Harijan girl and has a few rendezvous with her in secret. The Harijans don't want to join the co-operative as they feel that the higher caste Panch and his cronies will usurp the society as well. Rao and his associates talk sense into them and organise for an election for the post of the head of the co-operative. Bhola begins to trust and believe in Rao's ideals when Rao fires Chandravarkar for having fun with the Harijan girl on pretext of marrying her and bails Bhola out of jail when Panch gets him arrested for rowdy behaviour. Meanwhile, a mutual admiration and liking develops between Rao and Bindu which is cut short when Bindu's husband returns home suddenly and Rao's wife comes to visit him in the village. In the election, the Harijan representative Moti defeats the Panch in a tiebreaker and the Harijans erupt in joy. The Panch takes the loss terribly on his ego and joins Mishra Ji, also aided by Bindu's husband. Together, they force Bindu to put her thumb impression on legal papers that claim Dr. Rao has raped her. Dr. Rao is extremely agitated when the allegations are brought against him and starts to wonder whether or not he has bitten off more than he can chew. His wife also falls sick to Typhoid. Dr. Rao finishes the setting up of the board and leaves with his wife. This greatly troubles Bhola as he considers this cowardice on Dr. Rao's part. Bhola, however, continues to carry on the work of the co-operative with support from a few villagers and notably, Bindu. Both of them have been inspired and churned as new, brave individuals by the work of Dr. Rao.
- Genre: Thriller
- Runtime: 134 Minutes
- Awards: 1976 - Amul National Film Award for Best Feature Film in Hindi, Vijay Tendulkar National Film Award for Best Screenplay, 1978 Preeti Sagar Filmfare Award for Best Female Playback Singer
Manthan is a 1976 Hindi film made by Shyam Benegal, based on the story of the pioneering milk cooperative movement of Verghese Kurien (the Father of the White Revolution in India) written jointly by him and Vijay Tendulkar. It is set amidst the backdrop of the White Revolution of India (Operation Flood) which started in 1970, ushering an era of plenty, from a measly amount of milk production and distribution. Aside from the great measurable success that this project was, it also demonstrated the power of "collective might".
The film went on to win the 1977 National Film Award for Best Feature Film in Hindi and National Film Award for Best Screenplay for Vijay Tendulkar, and was also Indian submission for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film for 1976.
The title song (whose lyrics go Mero gaam kathaparey) was sung by Preeti Sagar. She won the Filmfare Award for Best Female Playback Singer for that year. The song was later used as the soundtrack for the television commercial for Amul.