Friday, October 26, 2007

Myth Making of Mangal Pandey















While a lot has already been said about this 2005 period film, which failed miserably at the boxoffice... here are just a few quick points on why this film quite pathetically struggles to find its reason d’etre.

For those who are still in doubt, quite emphatically, Mangal Pandey was no icon of the 1857 revolution and was, in fact, entirely irrelevant to the ‘first war of independence’. Anyone with a little interest in history will know that he was already dead by the time tens of thousands of sepoys headed to Delhi, with the idea of attacking the British.

This fanciful idea about the happenings at Barrackpore being crucial to the Mutiny and Mangal Pandey being the central icon of the event is a lie propagated by Hindu nationalist historians, for whom the idea of Hindu sepoys flocking to a Muslim emperor (Bahadur Shah Zafar) itself was abhorrent.And hence was born this great distorted theory to prove how it was rightfully only a Hindu who led the country’s ‘first war of independence’. And voila, the Mangal myth was born!

Now, the problem for Mangal Pandey, the film was that it could only sell this myth some more, without any real evidence in history. The result is that you come up with a character and screenplay that is entirely a figment of someone’s imagination, with little historical basis.

It was so clear that the director didn’t have enough matter on Mangal Pandey, the man. This of course, is the natural consequence of the fact that barring that single episode where he shoots two Britisher soldiers (under the influence of bhang possibly), he didn’t have any role to play in the revolution.

The only recourse for the makers was then to create an even bigger myth of the character than already existed. This was shown when Mangal Pandey is trying to gather support from the Maratha kingdom and Rani Of Jhansi in the film. Pandey was dead by then, so there was no question of him being part of any high level negotiations. Clearly, this distortion, among many others, was another result of the desperation the makers were feeling about their inability to amplify Mangal Pandey’s persona to make him appear like a national icon. Sometimes even myth lacks matter, this film is an unfortunate example of that.

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