Movie Review: Mangal Pandey

15Aug05

1857. Barrackpore. Four messengers on an elephant back beside the banks of a bright sunlit river singing praises of the land, inspiring people to rise from their slumber, to admire the scrambled beauty that the medieval age was all about. Well, atleast that was the idea.

In historical epics like Mangal Pandey, where one is already aware of the story, the history behind it, the expected climax and the obvious conclusion, the least one would expect from the movie is to carry oneself into that day, retelling and reliving the emotions of the past as if it were happening in front of his eyes, rather than an amalgamated narration of the incidents with intermittent bouts of fiction and masala. The fervor appears lost even as the movie begins with the Mangala mangala song and the four men on the elephant back theme.

The movie was Ketan Mehta’s 17 year old dream and had considered Amitabh Bachchan and Sanjay Dutt to play the lead role during the days of his initial contemplation. But eventually, 17 years hence, when the project did manage to take off with Aamir Khan, Ketan Mehta seems still hooked on to his erstwhile visions of the movie.

The movie moves more like the Discovery of India (Bharath ek khoj) series telecast in Doordarshan 20 years back, with Om Puri’s voice (it was Om Puri in that series as well) narrating the events as they unfold, at times making one wonder if someone is reading out lines from a completely illustrated story book. Historical texts seem to talk of a British general, William Gordon, who fought with the Indian sepoys against the British forces. The movie goes a step further fictionalizing an intense friendship between Mangal Pandey and William Gordon, and the betrayal of his friendship eventually forcing Mangal Pandey to turn in the rebellion.

A friendship ensuing between an Indian sepoy and a British general is understandable, but some parts are hard to comprehend. A case being the wife of a sepoy who breast-feeds a British lady’s baby at the cost of ignoring her own baby whom she opium-izes and at a point when she warns her of the rebellions resorts to deeming the lady’s baby as her own. There could be a better way of showing a mother’s feelings. Wonder if any mother in this day or that, would resort to this.

The costumes are a let down. For a period placed in the mid 19th century, the costumes and settings seemed much contemporary. But for the uniform of the sepoys, there wasn’t much by way of costumes to carry the viewer into the medieval age. Compare the scenics of the villages in the movie with a present day village, and you wouldn’t really tell them apart. Camera angles and choreography fail to instill a sense of thrill or emotion. AR Rahman’s tranquilizing numbers appear lost in simplistic choreography with conversations taking over half the songs half-way through.

Rani Mukherjee does not have enough of a part to talk of her performance, while Amisha Patel does her insignificant role fairly well. Toby Stephens (William Gordon) performs the most vital role of the movie (next only to Mangal Pandey) with neat precision. Aamir Khan is probably the best thing that could have happened to the movie. His 2 year long grown moustache and hair and his uncanny knack of living the role he performs deserves due credits.

Mangal Pandey is a good break from the laborious stereotypes of typical bollywood masala, but far from living up to its hype.

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