“ Genre: Drama / Theatrical Release: 2005 / Suitable for 12 years and over / Director: Ketan Mehta / Actors: Aamir Khan, Toby Stephens, Rani Mukherjee, Amisha Patel ... / DVD released 2005-10-07 at Yash Raj Films / Features of the DVD: Box set, NTSC, Subtitled „
If I told you that one of my favourite films is about Indian history, is two and a half hours long, almost entirely in Hindi and has subtitles, you could be forgiven for thinking I might be a bit weird or rather too obsessed with Indian history. Both accusations might well be true but I think it's also fair to say that 'normal' people will also have no trouble to enjoy this fantastic film. Did I notice the length? Not really - I've watched plenty of Indian films that are three or four hours long and this one just zipped along. Did the subtitles bother me? Again, not a jot because they've been done extremely well. And did I actually LIKE it? I did indeed. Every single one of the 150 minutes was fantastic - well maybe I could have done without the singing but by normal standards the occasional musical interludes in this film are a lot less intrusive and a lot fewer than in most Indian films and they don't interrupt the flow of the action. So what's the film? Mangal Pandey - The Rising, a film released in 2005 and one of the Indian film industry's true block busters as well as the most expensive Indian film ever made.
~The British East India Company Made Apple and Microsoft look soft~
Many people believe that the British ruled India for a very long time and to some extent it's true. However it wasn't the King or Queen who ruled for most of the time - in fact rather than being ruled by the crown, the one fifth of humanity that lived in most of the Indian sub-continent was ruled by 'The Company'. It's very hard to get your head round the idea that a single highly powerful trading company - The British East India Company - had its own armies and stomped around the sub-continent doing dodgy deals with maharajahs and dealing very forcefully with anyone who got in their way. For 101 years The Company ran India for the betterment of trade and undoubtedly to the profit of its shareholders and the general advantage of Great Britain but it was not until 1858 that India became officially and legally part of Queen Victoria's Empire. If the reality of using so many people for the profit of others thousands of miles away ever caused company big-wigs to feel a little uncomfortable then they could draw attention to all the great 'civilising influence' they brought to the land. It must be the kind of thing that Bill Gates lies awake and thinks about in his more outrageously ambitious moments.
~Mangal Pandey - Hero or Villain?~
Mangal Pandey is heralded as India's first great freedom fighter and was the man whose actions kicked off the 1857 Indian Rebellion (also known as the Sepoy Mutiny or the First War of Indian Independence). Unlike the great freedom fighters of the 20th Century Independence Movement such as Mohandas K Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Subhas Chandra Bose or Mohammed Ali Jinnah who were mostly of the wealthy Oxford- and Cambridge-educated elite, Mangal Pandey was a sepoy (or foot soldier) in the army of the Company. He was not a man marked for greatness, just a religious Brahmin Hindu from a small town whom nobody could have expected to make such a mark.
The film opens with Pandey shackled and being led to the hangman's noose. A row of smartly uniformed British officers stands by watching him approach his death only to be told that the hangman has run away because he refuses to carry out the execution. The senior officer insists that someone be dispatched to Calcutta to get another hangman and so the execution is delayed. The camera zooms in on the face of one of the officers, William Gordon, who then leads us into the story of how everyone got to this place and how and why Pandey stands before them.
The film then follows the two key characters - Mangal Pandey himself and his friend and commanding officer William Gordon. Gordon is the 'Good Brit' who seems to be needed in most films set during the so-called Company Raj, especially if there's to be any prospect of export sales of the film! Lest it should look too soft on the English, Gordon is a Scotsman and a decent sort who's often at odds with the more senior officers and officials of the Company because he's not from the right place and wasn't educated in the right schools. We follow the development of their friendship which is based on a high level of mutual respect and understanding.
~Biting the Bullet~
Trouble is brewing in the ranks when the sepoys hear rumours that the new Enfield P-53 rifle which the Company plans to introduce is using bullets that are greased with animal fat. Since the soldiers are required to quite literally 'bite the bullet' in order to use the gun, the Hindu sepoys refuse to touch the bullets if they contain beef tallow and their Muslim colleagues won't touch them if they contain pig fat. During a stand-off in which a senior officer orders the sepoys to come forward and test the guns, the men refuse and explain about the animal fat. At a second attempt to get them to use them Gordon assures the men that he has received confirmation from the senior quartermaster that the bullets contain no such fat and Pandey, demonstrating his faith in his friend, steps forward and fires the gun. Of course it later becomes apparent that Gordon has been lied to, the bullets are contaminated and Pandey fears that his status as a Brahmin has been destroyed and he has lost his caste. He and the other sepoys plan an attack on the company and the rest - as they say - is quite literally history.
~Characters and Actors~
I'd be lying if I didn't confess that knowing Aamir Khan had the lead role of Mangal Pandey was a factor in my longing to see this film. Khan is a fabulous actor and I'd loved him in every thing I've seen him in particularly my previously favourite Indian film, Lagaan (a four hour film about cricket and taxes - much better than it sounds). With his splendid moustache and long hair I'd have to say he wasn't quite such eye-candy as he has been in other films and he did look rather older than I'd expected to be playing a 30-year old but let's not be picky. This is no romantic romp, it's serious history and he delivered convincingly as the 'everyman' with strong principals. Toby Stephens as William Gordon was not someone I recognised even though he apparently played the villain in Die Another Day and Mr Rochester in the 2006 adaptation of Jane Eyre. I don't speak Hindi (well maybe 40-50 words) so I can't really comment on his accent but I was eye-poppingly impressed by this guy belting out most of his lines in what sounded like fluent and convincing Hindi. Compared to the other officers who seemed to speak Hindi with all the flair of Edward Heath speaking French (sorry to the younger readers - that just means with a very heavy English accent), Stephens delivered power and conviction in a language I couldn't understand.
Love interest for each of the two leading men is delivered by Ameesha Patel as Jwala, the young widow rescued by Gordon and Pandey from the flames of her husband's funeral pyre and by Rani Mukerji as the fiery slave-prostitute Heera who has her eye on Pandey. Whilst Jwala's rescue illustrates one of the controversial but (to my mind) good things about the Company's interference in India - i.e. the banning of Sati, the act of burning widows when their husbands die - Heera's slavery is a classic example of the dark side of the Company control. Patel is a bit too big-eyed and soppy for my liking and her romance with Gordon all a bit too predictable whilst Mukerji is the more likeable girl whom you want to cheer for despite her rotten lot in life. Mangal Pandey is a man's film and sadly neither of the leading ladies nor the other women's roles are particularly well developed. You could quite easily get rid of them without harming the core film and I can't help but wonder if the film-makers wished they had since Pandey's involvement with Heera led to several political parties trying to get the film banned for defaming a national hero.
~Pretty as a Picture~
The scenery is spectacular and there were multiple times when I really wanted to know where the film had been shot so I could go and have a look for myself. The military parade ground scenes are stunning with hundreds if not thousands of soldiers lined up in their stunning red jackets. The choreographing of some of these scenes must have been very challenging. As I watched on my laptop screen I longed to be in a big screen cinema to get the full blast of the on-screen glory. I've mentioned the songs earlier and all I can really add is that if you've got the DVD and you don't like them you can easily fast forward every time the music starts or use it as an excuse to go and put the kettle on. Nothing significant happens when they're singing so feel free to enjoy or ignore as you please.
I can't really comment on the work of the director or producers because it's hard to say much when you're not familiar with any of the people involved. I guess if you love the film you'll think they did well, if you hate it then you'll think they weren't. 'Nuff said
~An Equal Opportunity Offender~
Reading around the internet it seems that 'Mangal Pandey - The Rising' managed to offend a lot of people. The BJP (India's second political party) called for it to be banned because it was disrespectful to the memory of a hero by showing Pandey drinking bangh (a cannabis drink) and cavorting with a prostitute. Other political parties also slated it and the government of Uttar Pradesh considered banning it. Apparently (though I don't remember it happening) some conservative MPs were peeved that the UK Film Council had partially funded a film that was so negative about the British. Personally as a Brit I don't find it the least bit offensive because the criticism really is of the East India Company and not the people of the UK.
~Fancy a Copy?~
It took me a long time to get this film. When I finally found a copy on eBay I discovered that I'd ordered it not once, but four times on Play.com and they'd failed to deliver every time. Personally I think it's worth the trouble to hunt down a copy.
The film comes with a variety of sub-title options - most usefully English but there are also half a dozen Indian regional languages as well. There are no extras - unless you count the option to watch all the songs without the film that goes around them. Personally I prefer the film without the songs, but each to their own.
Director Ketan Mehta's The Rising took him over a decade to make(starting from the concept to the making) but it got more hype since it brought back Aamir Khan after a gap of 4 years! The film also stars Rani Mukherji,Toby Stephens and Amisha Patel.
Mangal is a loyal sepoy under the british regiment which controls the whole indian subcontinent in 1857.Following a series of events,Mangal becomes a close friend of Gordon(played byToby Stephens),a british officer.Things thicken up when the regiment orders new bullet with pig fat covering(pig/beef is prohibited for hindus,and whoever takes it is sent in exile).The hindu sepoys disagree to use them,but Gordon reassures Mangal that there is no pig fat involved,and Mangal uses them since he has enough trust on Gordon.
What follows is a serious raging expedition-initiated by such a small thing,it expands and becomes a revolution for freedom. Ketan Mehta's choice of subject is ambitious and such an epic had never been made in India. Mangal and Gordon's friendship takes center stage here,but the focus shifts to Mangal in the latter half. Ketan also brings in Rani Mukherji to play Heera,a prostitute who grows feelings for Mangal and Amisha Patel plays Jwala,a widower whom Gordon saves from Sati and keeps her safe against the will of the villagers.
Mangal Pandey's story has the capability to strike gold but it is Ketan's treatment which spoils its chances-he tries to make it commercial and thus puts in a couple of songs too many. Whenever you start getting pulled into the proceedings,there's a song which dilutes the effect. The story with its share of twists and turns would have made for a poignant movie,a movie that could have won hearts of critics all over the world.
Mangal Pandey belongs to one person,and that is Aamir Khan. The actor dared to take time to grow his hair and mustache,his movements,his voice modulation,his rage,his emotions all overwhelm the audience. This has to be one of the hardest roles for an actor,and he is fantastic here! The other actors don't get much space.
The Rising could have been an international classic,only if it was directed by somebody more capable,or somebody who wouldn't have compromised its merits for its commercial values.