Travellers and Magicians

The cherry blossom is beautiful...because it's temporary!

Friday, September 23, 2005

Mangal Pandey:Not Risen Enough

Ketan Mehta's depiction of Mangal Pandey's role in bringing about the war of 1857 is undeniably beautiful, but unabashedly pointless. One is left wondering as to why the director chose to make a movie out of an incident about which so little is known historically. The consequences, it being the Hindi film industry, cannot but include a host of unnecessary characters, historical blunders, needless romance and a wholesomely biased retelling of history.

You may overlook, or even enjoy, the commercial jazz, but the historical blunders are outrageous. Earlier on in the the movie, the viceroy of India makes a gallant speech in a party that the British should shoulder 'the white man's burden'. This phrase and the historically important concept that it refers to were coined by Rudyard Kipling in 1899, a good four decades later than the period depicted in the movie. Why, Rudyard Kipling wasn't even born until 1862, four years after the first war of independence. Also, the movie leads one to believe that the cartridges were indeed greased with the fat of cows and pigs, another giant leap in manipulating history.

Needless to say, the character essayed by Rani Mukherjee has been created solely with the intention of adding romance and melodrama to the film. The depiction of prostitution and its fostering by the British may be historical. But, her marriage to Mangal Pandey in the cell and her fighting alongside the revolutionaries, serve purely to invoke the Ekta Kapoor effect - the maudlin sentimentalism so characteristic of Indian movies. Given the social milieu of the time, it isn't in the least plausible that Mangal Pandey, a brahmin, would associate thus with a prostitute. Another such superfluous addition is Amisha Patel's role as the widow saved from her husband's pyre, to fall in love with her British benefactor. It struck me as typical of Hindi filmdom that she is portrayed as a virgin so that her intimacy with the British officer is 'morally correct'. But that may be forgiven as the idea may have been to portray how young women were forced into marriage with ripe old men.

The songs were, as in every second Hindi movie, inappropriate and unnecessary, with the exception of 'Mangal Mangal' which was used to good effect. The 'Al Madad Maula' was entirely avoidable. The sufi gathering, albeit authentic, jumps at you out of the blue. It has no place in the story line nor in the historical substratum. A good friend of mine, Subbu, pointed out to me that it conveys the Hindu-Muslim unity of the time. I am prone to think it's superfluous, considering sufism is still pretty popular in India. Hindu-Muslims riots or skirmishes did happen in the ninteenth century and of course, have happened since, in spite of sufism.

Last of all, I have to place on record my consternation at the end of the film. The movie began with a disclaimer saying fictional episodes and characters had been introduced for aesthetic and dramatic purposes. After 3 hours, my mind was a swirling maelstorm of confusion as to what I had been subjected to. I had no clue as to which parts of the movie were historical, which parts were based on legend and which parts were outright conjured up. I was more confused than ever as to the events leading to the war, Mangal Pandey's role in bringing it about and the East India Company's record in India. It was a classic case of added drama fudging the substratum of truth.

In my opinion, Ketan Mehta could have made a more comprehensive and honest movie about the 1857 war had he not chosen to soleley glorify Mangal Pandey for 3 hours. 'Mangal Pandey' thus joins the ranks of 'Braveheart' as a loved and beautifully crafted movie loosely based on legend and liberally dramatizing history. Whereas, it could have equalled the entirely plausible and yet magnificient 'The Last Emperor'.


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At 8:32 AM , Blogger Wanderer said...

Hey beedi... remember I told you that I didn't know such gatherings in mosques existed... and you said that its still very common... there is a Mohammed Ali Jinnah in my office, I asked him about it and he laughed and said that it was just the movies which depict these songs in mosques and that such things didn't exist in real mosques... well, my point is that lots of people are not aware of it. Oh, and I do agree reg. the song not fitting in... but I just love the song, so I couldn't care less. I was in a trance. Also, I think the Holi song was a bigger misfit. Reg. the sufi gatherings, I'm eager to participate in one of those sometime.

Nice blog, keep going.

At 2:07 AM , Blogger Ch@ry said...

gonni, why bother about such movies? they're not worth it. amisha patel, the bloody 'virgin' slut!


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