Mangal Pandey , A Review, Sept 2005.
A recent bit of news item in the press states that the lead actors and makers of the Hindi film “Mangal Pandey” are being taken to court by two descendents of Mangal Pandey. Apparently the said descendents feel that the film is defamatory to the hero of the 1857 revolt.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Now, I’m just a lay viewer of movies. I have no agenda. I recently saw the film, a fortnight after its release, in the meantime having read a slew of reviews in the Indian press. Some seemed fair, many were anti and a few plain vicious (read Shobaa De’s review, Tehelka, Aug. 27).
A week later, some sequences from the film have stayed in my mind. I cannot think of any scene remotely defamatory to the real hero. In fact those featuring Heera and Mangal, have been handled with dignity and restraint. And it is obvious that Heera is just a prop to carry the story forward. Fact and fiction have of course been intertwined to provide a decent entertainer, not a great epic maybe, but definitely a watchable historical, a quiet and classy feel-good film.
Certain images linger - the opening battle sequence, the botched first attempt at hanging, all the action sequences, the Allah ballad refrain of the moving Baul singers (Kailash Kher’s rousing “Mangal Mangal”), most of the song sequences, the scene where you think Mangal is going to torch Gordon’s hand (he finally compares skin colour), the sufi song, the Mangal – sweeper confrontations (quietly funny), male bonding over Bhang (certainly not objectionable), the court scene, the penultimate scene in the hospital with Mangal and Gordon, the final hanging when Mangal gives the tiniest of smiles to Gordon before shouting Halla Bol. And yes, the transformation of Heera into a warrior.
Of course the film is not without flaws. In fact the movie seems to be a collection of exquisite scenes loosely strung together. Ketan Mehta’s effort and research show in this seventeen year labour of love, yet it does not move the viewer. I for one did not leave the theatre with a lump in my throat. However sections of the Chennai audience did clap and cheer through the 2½ hour afternoon.
Some of the contemptuous reviews in the press make me wonder if I’m too easily impressed. I don’t think so. Some people I’ve spoken to have liked the film to varying degrees, with one friend saying that she loved it. Its certainly a noble attempt at film-making when you compare it to the sex-comedies currently running in town. These are of course the big hits of the season. And what does it say for the average viewer that a no-brainer like “Mujhse Shaadi Karogi” celebrated a 50 week run? My 22 year old daughter and I tried to watch it on video. We simply could not sit through the whole film. It was brainless and boring.
So, a well – intentioned film starring a sensitive and cerebral actor gets the rap from the press public alike, while movies like “Maine Pyaar Kyun” and “No Entry” hit bull’s-eye. We get the cinema we deserve.