Mangal Pandey The Rising is a film that has enormous expectations (probably no other film in recent times has been awaited to this extent). And the main reason for this hype and huge expectations is Aamir Khan the superstar makes a comeback to the silver screen after 4 long years
Mangal Pandey is a story set in the year 1857 when India was in the grasp of the East India Company. Mangal Pandey (Aamir Khan) is an ordinary sepoy (soldier) who serves the Company's 34th regiment. We see the story through the eyes of Mangal and his superior officer William Gordon (Toby Stephens), who share a deep friendship. The Company introduces a new rifle called the Enfield that requires the sepoys to bite into grease that supposedly contains cow and pig-fat, and that is where all the trouble starts. It becomes a religious issue as cow is sacred to Hindus and pig is taboo for Muslims. This incident transforms Mangal from an ordinary soldier serving the British to a rebel who sacrifices his life and in turn, provides that spark to begin India's independence movement. So the story of Mangal Pandey is not about the actual Uprising, but the hero whose sacrifice sparked this whole movement. The film depicts the situation prevalent in Barrackpore in 1857. Scriptwriter Farukh Dhondy has taken cinematic liberties and he blends fact and fiction. Rather than giving the audience a history lesson as documented by the British, writer Farukh Dhondy and director Ketan Mehta introduce fictional characters and fill the narrative with folklore.
To both Mehta and Dhondy's credit, all this is shown without sounding like a boring documentary or a history lesson. However, the script has its pitfalls and could have been a lot better. The biggest problem of the film is that it does not have a smooth flow. This is partly due to Dhondy's script, partly due to Mehta's direction and mainly due to Sreekar Prasad's inconsistent editing. Many scenes seem like they were cut and pasted haphazardly. Many characters are introduced and then later they are nowhere in the narrative. Songs (except Mangal Mangal, Main Vari Vari and Takey Takey, to an extent) are forced into the narrative and appear at wrong points. Most characters seem under-developed; even Mangal Pandey's character could have been developed much better.
Why, then, did I like the film, inspite of so many flaws? That is because the film has something magical to it that it endeared to me despite all its obvious flaws. At the end, I left the theatre satisfied. The film is technically, a world-class product and epic in scale. Scenes like the war in Afghanistan, the torch scene with the sepoys and Mangal surrounded by a massive army are shot so exquisitely that they give you the goosebumps. Himman Dhamija's dazzling camera-work and Nitin Desai's impeccable art direction take you back in time and convince that you are in 1857. On the whole, the film manages to stay rooted in that period and achieves that late-19th century feel very well. The visual effects of the film are a treat despite minor hiccups. Costumes by Lovleen Bains are good overall, but some costumes like those of Tatya Tope and Rani of Jhansi shown at the end seem straight out of a fancy-dress competition. Action sequences by Abbas Ali Moghul are aptly designed. The sound effects are superb
..the sound department has done an outstanding job. A.R Rahman's music is disappointing except for the rousing title track Mangal Mangal and the 'mujra' Main Vari Vari; Rasiya is also good to hear, but it has no use in the movie. But the background score also done by Rahman is impressive. The dialogues of the film range from a few mediocre lines to excellent ones. Generally, the dialogue is good
..sample this "Hum apne hi desh mein acchut hain (We are untouchables in our own country)", says Mangal to Gordon.
Now to the performances
..a superhuman effort was expected of Aamir Khan and the superstar-actor does not fail to deliver. Though he's let down by the script
.as I said before, Mangal Pandey needed to be fleshed out better, Aamir gives his soul to his character. Be it the drunken scene with Toby Stephens where they play a prank on a British officer; or the rage he displays when he's beating up a senior officer; or the calm intensity in his eyes when he walking up to face his death
Aamir shows his tremendous range as an actor. But still, his brilliant performance does not seem as glorious as it should, because his character is somewhat diminished by the script. Toby Stephens is the biggest surprise
he matches Aamir step-for-step as the kind and sensible Gordon. He's worked hard on his character as well as his Hindi and he's also helped by the fact that Gordon is the best-written character of the film. Rani Mukherjee as the nautch-girl Heera is in top form in the 'mujra' Main Vari Vari and she shines even in her short, underdeveloped role. Amisha Patel does not have anything to do at all. The supporting actors are almost like cameos. However, Mona Ambegaonkar as the nurse and Mukesh Tiwari as Bakht Khan leave an impact.
To be frank, the film is inconsistent all along the way
..but despite all its obvious flaws, it is still brilliant, magical cinema. There is too much of candy-floss in Hindi cinema at the moment, and we need more films like Mangal Pandey, Swades and Sarkar which are easy targets for criticism
but these films show you what cinema is all about. Ketan Mehta's epic is a tad disappointing, no doubt and it could have been a lot better
but this is one film that should not be missed. Check it out at least once
..as for me, I'm already thinking of watching it a second time because I'm sure I've missed out on quite a lot of finer points in the movie
.Mangal Mangal Ho !