August 13, 2005

Mangal Pandey : The Metaphor

A little slice of a very important part of India's history heavily garnished with the sights and sounds of an era, two cameo love affairs and A R Raman's haunting music all add up to a wonderful and romantic adventure : but oh how I wish it was three songs shorter ! That would have given this otherwise fabulous movie that cutting edge ... an edge that has been blunted by the director's desperate attempts to cut into psyche of the semi-moronic Bollywood fan for whom anything without "item numbers" will apparently not pass muster.

I will not sure how long this movie will run in the theatres and if Bose : The Forgotten Hero ( and film) is any indication, then I will be surprised if it crosses two weeks, but I would recommend this movie for anyone who has a love for India's past and is keen to sit through the passionate recreation of tumultous era.

In addition to the obvious charms of the delectable Rani Mukherjee and the sincerity with which Capt Gordon ( Toby Stephens) tries to portray the sepoy's point of view to the military authorities what is interesting to note is that, as Mangal explains, the initial revolt against the greased cartridges, fanned by feelings of caste and creed, metamorphoses into a not-quite-national-as-yet-but disenchantment with orders that fly in the face of a sense of justice and fair play against one's one people. I am not sure how much of this is real history but I noticed a couple of interesing facts :

a] The mutiny was fanned by a couple of British officers engaged in the illicit opium trade as a way to divert attention from the investigation of charges of corruption. The Parsi opium trader who was in collusion with the British officer deliberately showed the vats of lard to the excited sepoys and this was the final spark that lit the fire.

b] Mangal Pandey was a member of the proletariat. When requested by the emissaries of Nana Saheb to join forces he makes it very clear that he is not interested in replacing one set of oppresors by another. He wants a model of the English Queen who rules with the will of the people.

c] Messages were sent from camp to camp disguised as roti-s. This is a fact. We see Mangal making roti-s and we see scribes making multiple copies of their revolutionary manifesto. But we are never shown when the messages are sent. Perhaps Rani Mukherjee's song and dance elbowed out this piece of fact from the film.

d] Mangal is shown being hanged under a banyan tree. If I remember correctly this particular tree still exists in the Barrackpore Cantonment.

Perhaps the movie is not perfect. Neither was Mangal Pandey, nor the mutiny that he sparked off. Nevertheless, the Brahmim of Balia was an important metaphor of the age that represented the nadir of the historical evolution of Hindustan. It was the worst of the times, with the imperial age in terminal decline and the first flush of the enlightened renaissance still some way off. Confused and ill-directed this mutiny was the first documented evidence of the spirit of a nation groping for a way to find and chart its own destiny.

Some people are born great, others attain greatness and still others have greatness thrust on them. Mangal Pandey was at the right place at the right time, at the tip of the FIRST arrow that was shot into the heart of the East India Company and thus had greatness thrust on him.

However that does not make him any less great.

................................................................

Net-net : an enjoyable movie, thanks to Harsh Hada and Rahul Sharma of WDC who had given me the tickets for the premier show at Inox City Centre.

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