Sunday, August 14, 2005

mangal pandey

After 4 years I went to a theatre again to see a movie. “Mangal pandey?…. Oh, sepoy revolt? Lets go no!” and after my friends had hitched their jaws back up, we went to see what bollywood had to say about the revolt.

The movie provides a good opportunity for an exercise in deconstruction - here are 5 things that I found extremely interesting. (oh – don’t read this if you don’t want to hear bits of the story! :))

  1. the courtesans story: it was one of those boring certainties in life. Some stereotypes will never change. the main courtesan has to be a bosomy woman wearing a low cut bodice. She has to try to look “easternly exotic” – you look at her role, and its so obvious that shes the embodied fantasy of the westerner. The point of view is unmistakable.

Anyway, the courtesans role starts at a slave market, where she is eventually bought and brought to a brothel. A white man and woman watch the proceedings, the woman is (poor delicate darling) shocked and sickened by what she sees, so she shudders and turns away, doing precisely nothing to help her fellow being. Another stereotype successfully reinforced : women will be sensitive, be moved by the horrors around them, and run home to weep and carry on with their daily routine. Theres no question of reacting and asserting themselves.

As for the courtesan, she carefully lives up to her stereotype: she is a rebellious independent spirit at the slave market who suddenly and bewilderingly undergoes a radical personality change – to the extent that she willingly takes on the lead role in dancing before and sleeping with the clients of the brothel. Another lesson quietly reinforced: accept your fate. Especially if its decided by the men around you.


  1. sathi: theres a tall, fair and pukka sahib character, who despite being british, doesn’t like the east India companys politics and is properly pro- the underdogs. Of course there has to be a scene where he has to rescue a woman whos been asked to sit on the funeral pyre with her husband! What was so boring about it was that the woman was (predictably?) a wilting slender damsel in distress, good looking by current bollywood norms. (no prizes for guessing that the hero gradually comes to fall in love with her) I suppose it would have been taxing the hero too much, and emphasising the concept too strongly to show a fat ordinary looking woman being rescued - but how id cheer to see it! It was also hilarious to note that the hero was to be praised for living in constant danger and braving the blood thirsty villagers because he was harbouring a sathi widow in his house, but that she could all the same run out and join the community naach during holi!
  1. the appearance factor in the whole movie was so strikingly inane. Good looking damsels in distress. The british head who was callous and wanted to kill the Indian sepoys had stick-out teeth and a walrus moustache, while the pukka sahib was a fair, pale galahad. Mangal pandey as the main character was a bulging biceps guy while none of the other soldiers looked quite as muscular. The main courtesan was heavily made up and wearing tons of jewellery even when her colleagues were simply dressed. The list continues….

  1. caste politics: I really didn’t expect to see this botched up so badly. I mean the movie hinges on the caste politics which reject the use of animal fat in the weaponry as being adharmic. Mangal our man bites the cartridge and is then overcome with shame when the sepoys discover that animal fat has been used. He sits alone, fuming and stops another sepoy from touching saying that he, mangal, has become untouchable. The sepoys in a dramatic display of open mindedness take the stance of “what the hell buddy, we all did it too, so its cool right?”. EH?! We are talking a time when casteism was at its peak, thanks very much.

  1. the last scene was the most interesting one in the whole movie. Other than heralding the end of 2 hours of undiluted rubbish, it also made (probably unintentionally) a scathing comment on Indian team spirit and hero worship. Mangal pandey tries to rally the regiment to fight the british, but they all back out. Abandoned by his comrades, mangal doesn’t give up – he kills how many ever brit soliders he can and then is captured. You would think the regiment would be done with mangal after that ditching. But no. they turn out in full force, tears in their eyes that he is about to be hung. They stand around, pushing for a closer view as the man is led to the noose. Mangal pandey has no attention to spare for them. He smiles at the only honourable friend he has had – the pukka sahib. And he dies. And then suddenly from nowhere, his regiment buddies find the courage and spirit to push past the barriers and start rioting. If the mutts had managed that around 3 seconds earlier, they may have even sprung the man and saved his life. but no. they let him die and then weep and make him a martyr.

It was a superbly stinking commentary on our social politics, and about the only intelligent part of the whole story.


The movie was a complete disappointment. Short of the cast turning to the camera and saying “do I look nice?” the movie was totally self conscious that it had to be a hit. It was so contrived and incredibly absurd at times. I also found it insulting that the makers of the movie thought we, the audience, are so stupid that some 2 corny feel good scenes would make us swallow unlimited trash, and stir up patriotic fervour. Do we seem that dumb and gullible?

Its going to be a long, long time before I can muster the enthu to go see a movie again!

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15 Comments:

Anonymous Charu said...

been hearing mangal pandey had blotched up badly. thanks for this detailed review. a good looking but not good movie - how many more of these will we have?!

guess when it comes to history, cinematic liberties are less agrreable - i mean, they stand out glaringly...
Short of the cast turning to the camera and saying “do I look nice?” that Amisha does alllll the time anyway - like this little girl who has worn her mother's lipstick for the first time and therefore has to keep her lips slightly open and pouty.

6:11 am  
Blogger Jinguchakka said...

Not a single positive point to say? Like teaching the current Gen about what all had to be undergone to attain the taken-for-granted freedom? Mind you, I am not denying your points. But there are some points to take home, too.

11:14 am  
Blogger Sanketh said...

Didn't I ask you to go watch Wedding Crashers!! Didn't I!! A movie which takes 4 years to make has just got to suck. Amir Khan or no Amir Khan.

you women and your obsession with the Khan clan.

10:10 pm  
Blogger Senthil said...

Hmmm. Yep, I expected it to be a disappointment... but I have to watch the movie, because that is almost my entire social life. Watch movies.
However, if you have not watched "Sehar", do. There's a movie that does not insult the intelligence of the viewer.

12:45 pm  
Blogger m. said...

@charu: lol.. yeah! that about sums up the sathi brides performance... the movie was bad not just on these counts, but was also historically inaccurate! what WERE they thinking? :-|

@jinguchakka: pardon me, but i think the only lesson the current generation will take home from that movie is "theres always time for an "item" number - even in the middle of a freedom struggle".

@sanketh: no you didnt! and bah... i went cos i thought it would be like a documentary/historical movie, not a pile of trash! :p

@senthil: so sad! but believe me, seeing this movie will leave you feeling sorrier for your fate! :)) i shall keep sehar in mind for later viewing... for now, ugh! no more movies!!

2:20 am  
Blogger KoPoS said...

one, were you expecting to see a documentary?

Two, eM yr comment, "@jinguchakka: pardon me, but i think the only lesson the current generation will take home from that movie is "theres always time for an "item" number - even in the middle of a freedom struggle"

The Freedom Struggle hadnt yet started then. WE term it as the First War of Independence but the Brits just called it a mutiny. And it was also crushed mercilessly. The whole of the episode was completely personal not even organised. And never have they told they are going to show it as is...? "Why accuse them of not being saints when they never claimed they were?"

And i would def like to have your views on movie "Naach"

8:33 am  
Blogger Sriram K said...

This is a story told in the backdrop of a historic setting. Like Lagaan, Titanic, etc. It was not meant to be documentary.

And for all the stereotypes shown, I am sure you know they existed in our society. And I believe fiction is about stereotypes. Even when you break them. At the creative best, it could be programmer that hates computers. Still it is about the stereotype.

My understanding of courtesans (especially based on your summary of Arthashastra) is that they dress quite well. Of course, we have had castes, untouchability, and sathi. No running away from the truth.

I am not supporting how the movie has been taken. I have not seen it. It might be rubbish. But not for the reasons you stated. But maybe because they did not project the right aspects of our past history that would make us feel good.

They were probably dishing out the real stuff. The life as lived day-to-day. Not that of the heroic non-conformist.

9:26 am  
Blogger Rahul said...

@M - Ha ha, nicely done! Am linking my QuestionableTaktix post to this one... congratulations, your google rank went up! ;)

5:24 am  
Blogger m. said...

poorna shashank, i usually avoid movies like the plague: i saw this cos yes, i thought it would be a doc. (stupid me) so no, im also clueless about this "naach" business. i was merely referring to community naach, where everyone realistically runs out to do an "impromptu" and totally synchronised dance.

@sriram: the historic setting was a farce! i think the movie was just unrealistic and SLOPPY. it did not do justice to history, to the circumstances, to the issues or the people of that time.

@rahul: thanks, and wow!... im overwhelmed! :))

11:45 am  
Blogger Aditya Bidikar said...

Hey m. Lovely post. It gives me five more reasons not to go see that movie. Am definitely thinking of watching Sehar one of these days.

11:56 am  
Blogger Indu M said...

Dropping by after quite sometime...New template, same ol sensible blah :-)

Agree on all points abt mangal pandey. And I think Sanketh's comment about all of us women liking Khan could be due to a certain sense of envy at his long locks - now that he's severely disadvantaged in that area. What say?

2:29 pm  
Blogger m. said...

@aditya: hullo. thanks... so when are you putting up your next post eh? :)

@indum: hey! enjoying life at iim? :) sanketh's probably just jealous because of his newly shorn state!:)) but anyway no, no takers here for long locks: im afraid i like em only on other people: for me, i love the comfort of my crop way too much!

1:38 am  
Blogger Sanketh said...

Jealous! Ha!

11:41 am  
Blogger Eroteme said...

:-) You would make a lovely thinnai personality!!

What on earth is: < !--[if !supportEmptyParas]-- > ???

Go watch Madagascar!!!

4:25 am  
Blogger m. said...

@sanketh: more like jealous.hahaha!

@eroteme: eh? whos a thinnai?! :-| the blah would mean youre having trouble loading the page (gosh even i knew that!). sure - madagascar in another 5 years :-)

9:31 am  

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