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Mangal Pandey fails to rise






Patriotic potboiler is what they wanted it to be. But Aamir Khan's long-awaited Mangal Pandey fails to excite us.



Rivalry is in their DNA!

DNA, the latest English language newspaper in Mumbai, is media partner for Mangal Pandey. DNA had carried full-page advertisements of Mangal Pandey shouting HALLA BOL! with the title "Courage Was In His DNA". After the release of the movie, and once it was clear that Rising did not match up to expectations, rival Hindustan Times came out with a front page story, which had a picture caption saying, "Was failure in his DNA? "This was followed by a cover story in an HT supplement, detailing the "Falling" of Mangal Pandey. Rising rivalry?


29 August, 2005: Mangal Pandey, the Rising comes as a disappointment, especially for those who flocked to the movie halls hoping it will be fictionalized docu-drama of the Sepoys Mutiny of 1857. The Sepoys Mutiny later came to be known as the First War of Indian Independence.

The movie narrates the story of sepoys in Bengal during the British days. The Indian soldiers formed the backbone of the Raj, which was ruling India through the English East India Company. The story goes that the sepoys were one fine day asked to use cartridges greased with cow and pork fat for the new Enfield rifles, which had to be bitten off before use in battle. This is not a historically proven fact, and different historians have different views on it. Right or wrong, the sepoys revolted against the cartridge decision, since they felt that the cow-pork fat defiled their religion, sparking the first war of Indian Independence in 1857. And it was Sepoy Mangal Pandey who was supposed to have first pulled the trigger. He was hanged.

We enter the movie hall fully knowing that the movie is a fictionalized version of 1857. It is not the lack of adherence to historical facts which irks us. In its attempt to woo the front and front-middle benchers, Mangal Pandey aspires to be a Bollywood soap at times, with patriotism thrown in for effect. There is more song and dance - folk, of course - than war and rebellion. The disappointment is worse because it did not play well as a Bollywood potboiler either. And if patriotism was the USP, it has failed miserably - Lagaan, Veer Zaara and Border fared much better than Mangal Pandey. 

Bollywood has a way of blowing money on expensive money-wasters, but when Rs 35 crore is burnt up on what is billed as the most expensive Indian film, one expects more. Acting by Aamir Khan (Mangal Pandey) and Toby Stephens (Gordon Brown) is the only redeeming factor in an-otherwise staid performance. Rani Mukherjee and Amisha Patel make remarkably poor, completely forgettable appearances. Neither of them have any serious role in the film. 

In the entire movie, one could say less than half the time goes into scripting the "Rising". This is where the film-maker could have capitalised on. It could have dwelt more on the planning of the rebellion, the actual revolt, its immediate effect and long-term consequences. Instead, Mangal Pandey is less about rebellion, and more about numerous song and dance sequences, elephant rides, unending festivals, the friendship of Gordon and Mangal, opium trade, British misrule, courtroom dancing, British socialite evenings, Gordon Brown's dalliance with a woman saved from Sati, and Mangal Pandey's dalliance with a courtesan. A good chunk of the two-and-half-hour film is filled with songs, celebrations and merry-making, all of which make you feel that British Raj was not that bad after all. The songs are loud, colourful and eminently forgettable. Not a single hummable tune, apologies to AR Rahman. To top it all, the loud songs break violently into the movie's flow, jerking you out of the seat.

The movie' art direction credentials start and end with the festivals and songs. There is little to convey the size and impact of the Mutiny. Lots of expectations rode on the movie which Aamir Khan starred in after four years. May be another four years would have made it a better movie. If 1857 could wait till 2005, it could have waited a little more.

The movie has triggered sharp reactions among a section of British historians, who say that the movie is a distortion of truth and portray the British as evil. The film-makers admit at the beginning of the movie that Mangal Pandey is a fictionalised version of real history. We are prepared for that. Yet, we went in to see the Mutiny. And came out with songs, dance, friendship, romance, partying and a little bit of rebellion. 



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