Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Mangal Pandey - The Rising

Mangal Pandey is a wannabe epic (or should that be epic wannabe?). This story of the first martyr of our freedom struggle is quite ambitious in scope but eventually comes off looking more like a masala film wearing the cloak of a period epic.

Mangal Pandey(Aamir Khan), a sepoy in the British army, has been a close friend of General Gordon(Toby Stephens) ever since he saved the General's life in a war in Afghanistan. When the Indian sepoys refuse to bite off a piece of cartridges that have been greased with cow and pig fat, Mangal does the deed after Gordon swears(based on his superiors' words) that that was not the case. When Mangal learns that the cartridges have indeed been greased with animal fat, he organizes the sepoys to revolt against their masters.

I don't mean to be disrespectful to Mangal Pandey but his part in our freedom struggle just doesn't seem to have enough meat(pun unintended) to carry a two and a half hour movie. Seen within the framework of the entire struggle, he sowed the seeds that eventually led to our independence and so played an important role. But when zoomed in to focus only on him, the big picture fades away and his brave acts seem small in scope. So the movie magnifies ordinary events and is forced to resort to sub-plots, song, dance and even an item number to pad the running time. As a result, the film feels thin and stretched.

The friendship between Aamir and Toby is nicely portrayed. The easy camaraderie the two share inspite of their respective places in the army is very believable. Toby's character, as he struggles between his duty as a British general and his loyalty to his friend, is especially nicely shaped. Aamir's caste consciousness(seen in his attitude towards an untouchable) also is a nice surprise since film heroes are usually beyond such petty feelings.

Considering that the movie is about an important part of our fight for independence, it is strangely subdued. It seems to have all the right elements in place but never invokes in us, the zeal or fervor that is important for a patriotic film to work. I got(and still get) more goosebumps during the single scene in Roja where Arvind Swamy puts off the burning flag, than I got during the entire running time of Mangal Pandey. There are a few scenes, like the one where Aamir stands up to the cannon and the one near the end where people break through man-made barriers and charge ahead while screaming, that do the job but there should have been a lot more of such scenes for the movie to work as a whole.

The movie has enough subplots to make a masala potboiler proud. Apart from making us realize that the main story is really thin, the subplots give the film an episodic feel. There are many abrupt jumps from one scene to the next, especially in the first half. This lack of a smooth flow prevents us from getting involved in the film.

Aamir Khan, appearing on screen after a long gap, fits the role well though the intensity he conveys with his eyes and body language isn't matched by his. His long hair seems more like a gimmick though, seeing the picture of the real Mangal Pandey that is shown at the end. But equal(or maybe more) credit goes to Toby Stephens who without knowing Hindi(I think), indulges in quite a few long conversations and gets the expressions right too. Rani Mukherjee looks gorgeous in a role that reminded me of Sripriya in Vaazhve Maayam. She has the best line the movie though. Amisha Patel has even less to do than Rani.

Technically, the film is top-notch. It looks grand and is gorgeously photographed. Attention has been paid to detail and there are no obvious anachronisms in the period settings. But the vulgar item song sticks out and damages the film's stature. I'm pretty sure there were no skimpily-clad women cavorting like lesbians in the middle of the road in 1857! Rahman's songs fit the mood with the title track and Al Maddath Maula... being my personal favorites.


At 12:54 AM, Blogger VenkatRangan said...

Yes your comments exactly portray my opinions too. The item number really killed the spirit of the movie.Rahman's contribution to the film needs a bit more mention.

At 3:29 AM, Blogger P.S. Suresh Kumar said...


good revu and it exacly summarises what i feel or what most of the audience felt about this movie. as frustrated said, Rahman needs to be mentioned for his background score.

At 6:34 AM, Blogger Raju said...

Nice review Balaji.. What we have studied in school history books about 1857 was the larger pic, involving the kings and Queen.. That part is touched only towards the end of the movie and the other events related to Mangal, I am not sure, whether they really happened or not. The item numbers, too many songs involving the females in the movie, and the sudden jumps in the movie all didnt help me attached to this one. The irony is, in his Lagaan, he knew what to do while mixing romance and patriotism in the right ratio. Comparing Lagaan and Asoka, he should realize which movie this one closely resembles and thus the similar result too..

At 12:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I liked the I half better. It presented MP with all his flaws and contradictions. For me the film derailed in the II half when it tried to depict MP as a traditional cardboard cutout hero.

MP was an accidental hero. IMO, he deserved a more quiet and introspective movie than a traditional bollywood blockbuster. Ketan Mehta tried to do both and failed.

At 8:06 PM, Blogger giri subramanian said...

hey balaji good review as usual.I always felt that movies made on freedom fighters should be more close to reality that having commercial ingredients.I loved "The Legend Of Bhagat Singh",eventhough it had a forced love interest(I dont have a clue whether it was true or not) for bhagat singh.I thought it was overall a superior film with a one of the greatest sound track by ARR.

At 11:21 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

we can expect the tamil dubbed version in "indhiya tholaikattchigalil mudhal muriyaaga, dabba kulla poi sila maadhangale aana "... for next independence day on sun TV then ?


At 12:32 AM, Blogger Balaji said...

frustrated/suresh, background score didn't really stand out for me except @ a few places.

raju, yeah the cricket match in 'lagaan' was picturized in such a manner that it raised more patriotic feelings than mangal's acts i this.

anon, "accidental hero" - love that phrase. and very accurate too :)

giri, somehow i missed that one. will try and chk it out.

sundar, LOL. if they dubbed this one then it would be a good choice :)

At 4:15 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

//Rani Mukherjee looks gorgeous in a role that reminded me of Sripriya in Vaazhve Maayam.//

Footage with cleavage, huh?

I agree with Giri. TLOBS was a superb movie by Rajkumar Santhoshi. Talking about goosebumps, there isn't many bigger than the entire soundtrack of TLOBS by ARR. Amazing work !!! I felt it was much better than Mangal Pandey. And after all those period movies for ARR, he himself got tired of it and said that this one is going to be his last (atleast for sometime in the future).

At 2:46 PM, Blogger Balaji said...

mav, LOL. that too but not just that. the scene where he marries her was the clincher :)

now i definitely gotta watch TLOBS!


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