Sunday, August 14, 2005

Loving Mangal Pandey

Movie: Mangal Pandey-The Rising
Cast : Aamir Khan, Toby Stephens, Rani Mukherjee

When Indian Sepoy Mangal Pandey (Aamir Khan) asks his friend Captain William Gordan (Toby Stephens) ‘Who is the Company?’ Gordan takes a moment to think. Then he tells him, you know, from the Indian mythology, you have the evil Ravana? Well, the company is many Ravanas put together.

These are one of the many questions that gnaw Mangal Pandey, the ordinary Sepoy serving the British East India company. The Rising attempts to capture the fire that kindled the Indian Mutiny of 1857. The role played by Mangal Pandey in the Indian Mutiny is still subject to controversy among historians but in the movie, Pandey is placed as the impetus for the rising. Hence the eponymous title for the movie. It has roots in Pandey’s gradual unease with his role as a loyal soldier. Firing at innocent villagers makes him feel like a pawn in the game played by the Company. The usage of cartridges laced with beef and pig fat which the soldiers must bite to load their guns are immediate reasons that make Pandey’s Hindu sensitivities rage. But, as he later tells Gordon, it is ultimately his need to fight for his own and the country’s dignity that stirs him. The crying need to be treated as equal amongst men. It is not a matter of my life, he remarks. India is already rising.

The movie has managed to effectively capture 1857 India with great care for the set and costumes. It works especially well in showcasing the psyche of the downtrodden Indian with a sense of humour and pathos. Strong performance all round by a stellar cast. Aamir Khan doesn’t let down. He shifts from a young man forging friendship, enjoying wrestling and liquor to a restless, angry fireball with ease. Toby Stephens, playing the Company officer William Gordon who befriends Mangal also delivers his conflicted, torn-by-conscience-and-duty role brilliantly.

The movie provides a snapshot of the rapacity that drove the British East India company. Chartered in 1600, it is the progeny of the modern transnational corporation. It is also a prime example of an early corporate violator of human rights. It is staggering to imagine that a company minted its own currency, maintained its own army and exercised legal jurisdiction within the regions where it did business. The question posed by Mangal on who is the company is an important one. How can a trading company rule countries? Yet, when we think of the modern transnational companies violating the Ogoni tribe in Nigeria, running sweatshops in Cambodia and destroying the environment, one wonders who is ruling still.

Sometimes, we forget the early fight for human dignity. A movie like The Rising reminds us. I particularly liked the part where Mangal speaks up against the royal emissaries who want to join forces with the sepoys. He accuses the Indian kings of gambling away the country and how the people must now fight for the country’s honour. It will be the country of the people hence.
Rani Mukherjee's character Heera shows how women were traded like chattels, to be used and abused by the company soldiers. Her role is small but she has what can be called one of the most biting lines in the movie. When Mangal harshly dismisses her and other prostitutes and tells them to go and sell their bodies to the English soldiers, she snaps back. The prostitutes only sell their bodies but the soldiers sell their souls, she says. Mangal’s eyes wince in pain. The truth that he knows deep within is articulated for the first time.

The music by A.R.Rahman left me spellbound. I loooveedd it. Especially the meditative Mangala…Mangala…..

XXXXXX
I am also reminded of dear old Samad Miah, father of twins, husband of Alsana, friend of Archibold Jones from one of my favourite novels, Zadie Smith's White Teeth when watching the exploits of Mangal Pandey. Samad Miah, of Willesden Green, North London, had a strong conviction, nay he knew deep down, that he, Samad Miah was desecendent of Mangal Pandey. This believe, that the great Mangal Pandey's blood coursed his veins, was one of the enduring character trait that I truly like about Samad Miah.
The first time we took the tube to Willesden, I scoured the place looking for him.

37 Comments:

At 8/21/2005 08:32:00 am, Blogger anandsharma said...

I like your comments on the movie Mangal Pandey.However after watching the movie,I realized that it did not stir any powerful emotions in me.While it has all the strong points that you have mentioned,and I like it , I wish it had more on the emotional side. . .perhaps.

 
At 8/21/2005 09:34:00 am, Blogger Jane Sunshine said...

Anandsharma, you have a point. The stirring cry to rise and fight really didn't rouse the necessary fervour. Various under developed characters. Even the songs proved to be some hindrance to the story line. BUT. I enjoyed the underlying message, colour, sounds and pagaentry. While it is not a movie that will change your life, it had good moments.

 
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