Dir: Ketan Mehta. India.2005. 150mins
The story of the IndianMutiny gets a swashbuckling spin, complete with musical numbers, in TheRising, a film that director Ketan Mehta originally planned to make in1988.
The presence of Aamir Khan -star of Lagaan, one of the few Bollywood films to achieve a healthydegree of non-niche prominence - suggests that The Rising might follow suit,though much will depend on its reception in Locarno where it premiered onWednesday (Lagaan was launched in similar style).
Crossover potential could behampered, however, by what mainstream audiences may perceive as a jarringincongruity between taut, realistic historical drama and the extravagant dancesequences scored by star composer AR Rahman.
Slightly less than afull-blown epic, the film is handsomely mounted rather than truly spectacular,but at time of viewing, some CGI work, notably in the battle scenes, was yet tobe completed. Whether or not it can break out of the specialised market, TheRising's seriousness and political sense of purpose should give it an edgeboth theatrically and on DVD. The film is released in the UK and Us on August12.
The film begins after the1857 court martial of the historical figure Mangal Pandey (Khan), a sepoy - anIndian soldier enlisted in the British army under the all-powerful East IndiaCompany. A voice-over tells us we will learn what brought Pandey to this point,and how his actions led to the downfall of the East India Company, and sowedthe seeds for the eventual dismantling of the British Raj.
The action flashes back to askirmish between the British army and Afghans, in which Pandey saves the lifeof a young Scottish officer, Captain William Gordon (Stephens). The two men'sfriendship is later cemented in a wrestling match but is tested when the sepoyscome into conflict with their British commanders, as a result of theintroduction of a bullet cartridge lubricated with beef and pork fat, andtherefore offensive to the Indian soldiers.
Meanwhile, both men embarkon romances with Indian women - Pandey with Rani (Mukerji), a young woman soldas a prostitute in a brothel for British officers, and Gordon with Jwala(Patel), a young widow whom he saves from death by suttee.
The Rising strikes an uneasy balance between factually-basedhistorical drama and very broad melodrama, especially where some of the Britishcharacters are concerned, although Kenneth Cranham excels as a boorishlycorrupt trader.
Writer Farrukh Dondeymanages to impart a great deal of historical information about both theeconomic voracity and the cultural ignorance underlying British dominion,giving the film a distinct Marxist spin. But that requires an awkward amount ofexposition, and it stretches plausibility that Gordon should deliver an angrylecture on the oppressive function of the opium trade, anachronisticallysigning off, "And we call it the free market."
The talk, however, is offsetby some taut dramatic sequences, especially in the climactic stand-offs betweenthe sepoys and the British, with Khan excelling as an intense, charismaticleader who finally achieves a quasi-messianic status. He's well matched byStephens as a thinking gentleman-of-action.
Several song-and-dancesequences provide vibrant interludes, especially when Mukerji lets rip withjubilant, flirty brio.
Maya Movies Production
Yash Raj Films
Nitin Chandrakant Desai
Abbas Ali Moghul