Mangal Pandey: The Rising

My movie stash is slowly growing smaller, leaving only movies that I purchased a long time ago, before I knew what or who I liked, films I've started but for some reason shut off or films I know nothing about. So when Monday movie night came around I didn't know what to bring. We ended up watching Mangal Pandey - The Rising, and why I waited so long to see this is beyond me. Very few movies captivate me right from the first frames, but I knew immediately that I was going to like this one even if I didn't really know anything about it except the fact that it took ages for Aamir to grow his hair and moustache.

Admittedly, I don't know that much about India's fight for Independence. High school was a loooong time ago, and we didn't even have "history class" so much as general social studies, so I wonder if I even learned about India when I was younger (and if I did, I don't remember anything!). At any rate, I find it fascinating when a director can take an historical event and turn it into a riveting piece of film, and in the mean time if I can learn a little bit, that's a bonus - even if there is a great deal of creative license involved, which there most certainly always is when dealing with historical legends and folklore.

With that being said, I think what Ketan Mehta has attempted to give us is a look into the start of Indian revolt against British rule, and he has succeeded, for the most part, in balancing form and content beautifully. It is a gorgeous film, drenched in color and beauty. From it's ability to convey a sense of the time period (the costuming is fantastic as are the amazing sets) to the emotional journey and character transformation that Pandey progresses trough Mehta has triumphed, breathing splendor into every frame.

Like all the great epics, Mangal Pandey takes a huge, sweeping story and puts a human drama in the foreground. Mehta includes an interesting cross section of narrations that neither sheds a completely negative light on the British nor a completely positive one on the Indians, including a British soldier preventing a forced sati (which was so brutal I almost couldn't believe it), a local Indian making deals with British officials and profiting over the sale of smuggled opium, Indian ran brothels for British soldiers only and Indian soldiers treated as second class citizens with brutal punishments for minor slips handed out by self-important British officers. But whenever it gets too grim to watch, Mehta surprises us with a song and lets us gather our thoughts for a moment.

Credit has to go to Aamir Khan, who I think is the most prolific actor of his generation. One needs to believe in his country, in his work and in himself to have put forth so many politically charged and controversial films. Nevertheless, he plays Mangal Pandey passionately with a complete conviction that you literally feel his shame, his fury, his intensity to such a degree that you almost forget that you are watching Aamir at all. My only critique is that, despite the picture being about Mangal Pandey, it isn't his character that is given the best dialogues or situations (with the exception of an outstanding but short lived climax), but Toby Stephens instead.

Stephens, as Captain William Gordon, gives an emotionally charged performance as the British soldier conflicted with being loyal to his government and doing what's morally right. You believe right away that Gordon and Mangal are more than comrades in arms and their chemistry together is the high mark of the film's dramatic impact. Not only does Stephens match Aamir step-for-step as the kind and sensible Gordon, but you can tell he's worked hard on his character as well as his Hindi, which came off about as natural as you could expect. It certainly helps that his is probably the best written character in the film.

The film also features the effervescent Rani Mukherji and Amisha Patel in short roles as the love interests of our two main soldiers. They don't have a whole lot to do with the story except to let us see a more intimate, human side to Pandey and Gordon I suppose. There is also a handful of other small roles that are smaller pieces of the whole, but don't really stand out too much, though I must send a small shout out to the insanely busty Kirron Kher for an interesting cameo as the bordello house mother.

With A.R. Rahman helming the musical wheel and Javed Akhtar operating the lyrical pen, one would expect nothing short of mellifluous genius, but do they deliver? You bet! Right away you get a feeling for the film with Mangal Mangal as it's played through the opening sequences, with two other versions played throughout the film in a very effective storytelling technique. A dancing girl's song, a holi celebration, a tantalizing item number are among the uptempo numbers. Great stuff!!!

Overall, I am so glad to have seen this epic movie, despite it's historical inaccuracies. Plus it's the only Hindi movie that's ever gotten me hot and bothered!

13 Response to "Mangal Pandey: The Rising"

  1. bollyviewer says:
    September 1, 2009 at 7:52 PM

    Thats some awesome screencaps! I've heard nothing but good about this film - dunno why I havent gotten to it yet. Sigh! There just isnt enough time for all the movies I want to see...

  2. Shellie says:
    September 1, 2009 at 8:39 PM

    I've had this movie for probably almost a year and just watched it. I thought it was pretty amazing!

  3. dunkdaft says:
    September 2, 2009 at 10:45 AM

    great review. Loved it.

  4. Shellie says:
    September 2, 2009 at 12:38 PM

    Thanks Darshit.

  5. Bhargav Saikia says:
    September 2, 2009 at 2:56 PM

    I remember queuing up in New Delhi to get tickets for Mangal Pandey. It was crazy. Advance bookings for the film were huge. I think I had to wait in the queue for like an hour. Aamir Khan, I tell you!

    I enjoyed Mangal Pandey. But like you said, there were a lot of historical inaccuracies. Nice screen-shots, by the way :-)

  6. Shellie says:
    September 3, 2009 at 8:33 AM

    It is on my bucket list to see a movie at an Indian cinema! I could just imagine the fervor after Aamir's long absence. I didn't really know there were inaccuracies until I started doing a little research on the man himself, so if you don't know then it's not really an issue and you can enjoy it for a loosely based historical film. Oh, and thanks! I super love the new screen cap program that Beth Loves Bollywood steered me too. I just wish I could add text to them.

  7. bollywooddeewana says:
    September 4, 2009 at 6:42 AM

    I second Darshit, Great Review indeed, i'll add it onto my rental list love that scren cap of rani she looks so fab, and i do love Amisha she's a sweetie check her out in Humraaz, which i'll be reviewing soon on my blog, i loved her a lot in that

  8. bollywooddeewana says:
    September 4, 2009 at 6:44 AM

    And do check out Aamir in Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander thats my fave Aamir film, it wasn't on your voting poll but i'll vote for something else

  9. Shellie says:
    September 4, 2009 at 8:17 AM

    Thanks so much! I think you will really enjoy it. I will absolutely add Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander to my list. I can't seem to get enough Aamir lately (I just watched Ishq and Rangeela). I couldn't put all of his movies on my poll, so I just selected a couple. They should have a spot for the voter to add their choice when one isn't there.
    Anyway, thanks again!

  10. Bollywood says:
    September 6, 2009 at 1:00 AM
    This comment has been removed by the author.
  11. Shellie says:
    September 6, 2009 at 1:06 PM

    I honestly don't know why I didn't watach this sooner. I knew there would be Lagaan comparisons, but I didnt' find them really anything alike (except for the British equation). I'm working my way through Aamir's earlir work so I'll add those to my list.

  12. Jules says:
    September 6, 2009 at 11:35 PM

    I'm not sure if I found the film riveting, but it did captivate me from the onset and I really enjoyed it. I'll probably never forget your reactions to some of the songs, though. I swear, sis... watching Bollywood is a treat, but I'm sure half the pleasure comes from watching your reactions to it! Well, maybe not half, but I love watching them with you!

  13. Shellie says:
    September 7, 2009 at 7:12 AM

    Ah, sis, I'm so glad that I have you here to share them with too. I'd be lonely if I never got to share my enjoyment with someone first hand.