Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Who framed Mangal Pandey?

There has been a lot of discussion in the media lately about the veracity of the re-construction of Mangal Pandey's story as shown in The Rising. At the forefront has been Rudrangshu Mukherjee, whose latest book challenges the very notion of Mangal Pandey being a freedom fighter. Others have piggy-backed on these and other assertions, and accused the filmmakers of falsifying history. All this is stale news. However, very few people have bothered to address the question: So what?

Sharmistha Gooptu writes for Outlook:
...the larger questions that come to mind having followed these developments of the last week or so are (a) What history and what falsification are we looking at? (b) What kind of responsibility should we at all expect from a film such as Mangal Pandey: the Rising?


...not being an expert on 1857, my concern is not whether Pandey was a nationalist, or whether he was simply too intoxicated for his own good. My concern is with this understanding of history, which sees no grey areas between "fact" and falsification, or how myth has been integral to the very unfolding of what we understand as history. The Pandey legend is just one such case in point.


Also, it would seem that those concerned with the film’s depiction of Mangal Pandey as the first nationalist are primarily concerned about the "ordinary" filmgoer, who is, by their definition, without a "proper" sense of history. As one Calcutta intellectual writes, these people will know history from the film, and take home a totally fabricated history. One cannot help but sigh at this very patronizing sentiment, which ignores the very complexities of the viewing process, and the multiple levels at which audiences make meaning in popular cinema.
My take: The filmmakers in this case set out to make a movie on the legend of Mangal Pandey, and not the British interpretation. History by it's very nature is subjective. Any historical film ever made has been accused of embellishment, Schindler's List, Alexander, Bose - The Forgotten Hero, Gandhi, all included. On the other hand, I do expect the filmmaker to uphold the general theme of a character or event. Example: showing Hitler as a humanitarian would be absurd. On that basis, The Rising meets expectation.

Slightly off topic: The exploration of the true nature of a hero, and the origins of his/her ideology pushes a movie beyond the confines of entertainment to becoming truly inspiring. The Rising fails here, and easily falls prey to the tendency of over-simplification and playing to the gallery. On the contrary, The Making of the Mahatma offers a much more subtle look into the transformation of a seemingly ordinary human being into a great soul, and has the potential for provoking constructive thought rather than mere jingoistic fervour.

Earlier post on The Rising: here.


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